Friday, June 21, 2024

Hair of Incoherence: AFTER BLUE: Dirty Paradise (2021)


French women, ah, mon ami, ils sont sauvages! Their five main differences from American women? O Monsieur! They speak the language of love and fine wine; they stay fierce and cool into their 40s and 50s; they find male artists and writers sexy more for their talent than their success; they treat premarital and extramarital sex (Le cinq à septs, etc.) like any other necessity rather than a luxury; and they let their lady hairs grow wild and free where they wilt. If you're an American girl and are bristling with indignant umbrage reading this, then your own extreme reaction proves the sixth difference: they don't take the childish generalities of men as something worth a single bristle, let alone umbrage. And I didn't mean you anyway, obviously,

Give me a fierce middle-aged, art-loving Frenchwoman any time, or give me to them, for they belong to no one and take what they want. I'm a dilettante aesthete of no common rankness; I stand, however wobbly, a man unafraid of menstrual blood, DSM-IV-charting madness, beaucoup hair, or if she's already married or seeing other people--especially if it means I don't have to go out to dinner with her petit-bourgeois amies. Vive la France! (oui, mi amor, Rormandy aussi). 

I burden you with all this so you know I'm the ideal audience for the gender-broken utterly original and daring films of Bertrand Mandico (The Wild Boys,) so you don't go into see his films thinking they're suitable for the whole family, or anyone who isn't at least somewhat debauched a priori. If you are, on the other hand, and you love vintage European science fiction, cursing, smoking, blue fire and azure skies and éros sans la érotique - welcome to After Blue, your Dirty Paradise.

Of course it's not really paradise. A crystalized embodiment of Camille Paglia's infamous quote (1), After Blue's matriarchal council (everything's run by 'council' on all-women planets in science fiction) is determined to keep science and technology off the planet so they live in grass huts, and still use horses instead of flying cars. But these are French women, the category that produced Isabelles Huppert and Adjani, and la Beatrice Dalle, so they're rougher than any Harvest Home-style matriarchy. Turns out even without men, human savagery thrives on- only more sinister, catlike, with more screaming and glowing jewelry-lined Meiko Kaji hats.

Adult French women, ranting and raving in all their screaming, moaning, tripping, swigging, swinging, overacting, flirting and not giving a shit about your stupid feelings, their neck and arm hairs growing wondrously out-of-control, you will find them all on After Blue where--even in the wilderness of unsettled 'Poison Mountains' they somehow never run out of cigarettes or whiskey. And the skies roar pink; the fire burns blue; surrealist set design gaps the bridge between statue and landscape; a dreamy artificiality eschews realism (frond's silhouetted against wild-colored rear projection to evoke forests), and every shot is a perfect overload of originality from eight different directions. 

Half a century ago, After Blue's mix of sex and psychedelia would need a thick shellac of cutesy camp (ala Barbarella) to avoid critical circumcision. It defies description as it wriggles through the tight hallways between all genres and styles. You can't find camp anywhere, making it much more of a piece with Paris's 20s-30s surrealists (Bunuel, Cocteau, Clair) than the post-68 Parisian dream eroticists (i.e. Rollin, Metzger, Vadim), even while somehow out obscene-ing and out-dreaming all of them. 

In fact it's so unique it needs its own film movement just to figure out to have a place to belong. In meta echo of the luddite matriarchy of After Blue, Mandico and some peers (like (which includes Yann Gonzalez, whose adorable You and the Night I've written about earlier) have formed Incoherence movement. Some tenets include: shooting only on expired film; keeping all special effects in-camera (rear-projection rather than blue screen, etc.); using found objects for set design; post-syncing all sound but adding no post-production; and avoiding anything resembling a familiar trope or narrative 'act' structure. In the age of the mood-altering gummy, it's the perfect post-dosed park picnic or party pick. 

AFTER BLUE (Dirty Paradise)
(2021) Dir. Bertrand Mandico

In a mythic story kind of sourced from Androcles & the Lion, or Aladdin, a young bullied gamin named Roxy helps free a wild-eyed, glitter-covered naked woman named Kate Bush who she finds buried up to her neck in the sand. But that's where all familiarity ends. Freeing the wild Kate turns out to be a catastrophically bad idea; she starts blasting everyone in sight. Then, she turns the gun on Roxy; and then, turns on Roxy and soon Kate Bush is riding naked on a horse with a Nordic crown and sword through Roxy's erotic dreams while drenched in gold glitter, while three of Kate's victims haunt her nightmares, tearing Roxy apart in a perfect illustration of Lacanian jouissanc. And now, since she freed the demon, Roxy has to pack up her hairdresser mother and le cheval and set off to the poison mountain to kill.... Kate Bush. 

And so begins Roxy's call to adventure, kicking, puling, licking, and sulking all the way while her wide-eyed mom, Zora (Elina Lowensohn) slowly goes mad from hunger and motherhood. So ushers forth a hypnogogic haze of frond-shadowed alien landscapes, blue fire, azure beaches, blue forests, filthy Dickensian outlaw vagrants sniffing around their saddlebags in search of food and/or a new wife; a gaggle of local inhabitants, easily colonized triffid shamblers with crystal cave mouths who can become your dreams (everything is fluid here, not just gender but between animal, vegetable and mineral). 

Once the arrive, Roxy finds plenty of distractions: trees to climb, holes to hide in, nightmares to scream to, and an enchanted grotto with phallic little monsters to kiss. Zora runs into a very cool and sexually slithering expat artist ("The second avant-garde") Sternberg (Vimala Pons) who lives 'next door' with her dog and android-male lover/muse Olgar 2 (Michaël Erpelding) and loves to drink and shoot everything in sight with her designer gu. If Kate is a new high of wildness in the wild woman archetype, Sternberg is a new quintessential aesthete, a libertine, alcoholic, rich, decadent, and ultimately both supportive and unhinged. She kind of steals the picture, even though everyone else more than holds their own. I love her. And Kate. Roxy is a whiner; Zora is a wide-eyed sad sack, but the other ladies, beaux sauvages for the revisionist fairy tale ages. 

It's all very colorful and helped immensely by the electronic score by Pierre Desprats: an eerie electronic/ambient mix of Morricpme western grandeur, spiked with well-timed deep pitch shifts dropping the bottom of almost Vangelis' Bladerunner-style cathedral Hell elegance (helligance?), like we're plunging way way down over Deckard's rainy 10th floor parapet. It's in French with English subtitles, but don't worry about having to read while your pupils are still micro-dilated, tu monolinguiste analphabète américain lâche fils de pute! Words can't hurt you if you pretend not to read them. Listen instead to the musicality of the le langage de l'amor; don't even look at the subtitles until first trying to decode the words and be grateful. French art movies never work in English dubs. The pretentiously unpretentious poeticism of lines like "you like my hat? It is an extension of my thoughts" or "I'm just a woman... as inoffensive as the wind" might wake you from the hypno-erotique spell in a fit of cringy twitching. But in French, with English subtitles, c'est adorable. Even the occasional overdone nod to contemporary chic, like giving all the guns names of designers (Guccis and Chanels instead of Lugers and Colts) is forgivable as its exotified by the musicality of the language.

But be warned: this is a world where everyone is almost always almost kissing and any actual kisses must drool comically with secretions; any fondling is done with clawed fingers that tear clothes and skin. We're not in some foamy Venusian clamshell anymore, honey; this is Red Riding Hood's wolfblood-baptized honeymoon nightmare, evoking a whole network of weird femme-fantastique gender-devouring mythic revival. Think Angela Carter (Passion of New Eve, Company of Wolves), Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White & The Huntsman, Wizard of Oz, only with props scrounged at Cronenberg's post-Naked Luch yard sale (phallic alien protuberances and smokable caterpillars), a setting from the Cat Women of the Moon Queen of Outer Space all-woman planet tradition, and awash in Jean Rollin 'two girls in a weird world' dreaminess. That's not to say Mandico is not also checking in with the more sophomoric French sci-fi ancestors (i.e. Gandahar, Barbarella), just that the target demographic isn't horny16 year-olds but experienced adult libertines, as debauched as Zorg in Betty Blue. It may have the second (sub?) title Dirty Paradise but rest assured, the 'dirty' is real dirt, or rather gold glitter; we're no longer ripping beamers with your little brother's friends in the basement on Sat. night cuz we ain't got girlfriends; we're upstairs snorting lines with Maria Louise von Franz and Tennessee Williams (After Blue would make a good double feature with Suddenly Last Summer, for all the right and wrong reasons). 

RETURN OF THE (REALLY) WILD WOMAN

Above all, forget about that stacked broad in Heavy Metal, and remember Kate Bush! Kate gives Anita Pallenberg's horned dictator in Barbarella, Beatrice Dalle (in everything) and all of the Baader Meinhof Complex a sound trundling. Hairy-armed, heavily clawed, jagged of teeth, this wild sandy blonde runs rampant through the mist and the wild fantasies of our young Roxy; gleefully shooting down anyone she pleases, disguising herself and harnessing the local 'Indians' to ride. Assertive and carnally violent as Tura Satana. wilder than Marsha Quist in The Howling, there's no woman capable of undoing After Blue's snippy power structure as singlehandedly as she. 

On the masculine spectrum of wild man Jungian archetype is a vivid neighbor to the sage/senex'who represents the wild man energy absorbed into the hero/soul and thus acquiring the best of both worlds - outside of the social sphere but able to step in and out of it easily. For my CinemArchetype series I found plenty of both to choose from, so tried to pick as wide an array as I could. For female characters I could only find a handful wild  (Un-absorbed) examples, hence the categories were merged 'The Wild/Wise Woman." Even within fairy tales that have female protagonists, the wild element is usually a male for girl's myths, i.e. the animus (think Edward in Twilight, Hannibal Lecter, or the Big Bad Wolf/Woodsman), so bringing in a voraciously homicidal wild woman archetype/shadow into a girl's story (where the female villain is usually a devouring mother/stepmother - a gatekeeper of a social sphere out of balance, rigged by hypocrisy and patriarchal fear, or 'the Red Queen' - an evil narcissit  rather than a true outsider of 'Iron Jane' style magnitude.) is truly revolutionary; Kate is agressive enough to shatter any old Grimm's fairy tale paradigm. You can almost hear Jung wake up and start clawing footnotes on his coffin lid, excited to contextualize her within the pantheon, and maybe use her in an paper trying to update his theories to the #mefirst movement.  There's only like three or four women in her archetypal class in all of cinema, which is so outrageous it should make any Frenchwoman reading grab her scissors and cut Willem DaFoe's genitals off instead of her own in Antichrist We need more! But Zulawski is dead (one of the other best examples is in Szvamanka (aka She-Shaman). Figures both Kate and Zulawski are Polish. Polish women be like French woman on angel (mountain) dust/

The real name of Kate Bush (Agata Buzek) is Katarzyna Buszowska -as there are Polish settlements on After Blue, and it was the Polish militia who buried her originally) and in her way she's the female equivalent to Manny in Runaway Train or the thing in Where the Wild Things Are. It's the kind of role Beatrice Dalle could have played a few years earlier, but luckily Buzek is there to carry the blazing out-of-control (laughing even as it catches her dress on fire) torch!     


Obscenity - who Really Cares? (answer - AMERICA)

Unsurprisingly, mainstream (RT) US (where sex is too esteemed in theory to be anything but degrading in practice) have been mixed. That's OK. Employed ($) movie writers don't often get to pick the films they see a week So when they may not wamnt to wade into  some weird morass of pre-Oedipal confusion and shouting. On which set of criteria can they judge After Blue? What template in their secret file can they use for tone, structure and genre analysis? How can you even judge it after one viewing? You don't even know what's going on!. I've seen four times and I don't know either!  How can a film be funny without slapstick; artsy without depth; erotic without titillation; stylish without campiness? Are the effects meant intentionally to be artificial? Are we supposed to find it Brechtian, Godardesque (if intentional) or Woodian (if not)? I hope to god there isn't an answer. 

On the other hand if the viewer is either micro- or macro-dosing. I might be confused and annoyed too if I was a critic on the clock on some cold screening room; but if you can visit it in 20 minute spurts, with long breaks in between, it's amazing; I've watched it, three times over 12 different viewings. Never in one sitting, unless showing it to friends in an 'altered' state.

As Mandico demonstrated in Les Garçons Sauvage, only after you clear out all the stale genre tropes, getting down to the nitty gritty, can eros chew its way out of the softcore bower, to burst forth flashing the R-rated fangs of some Zulawski cocaine withdrawal nightmare. Once it calms down it bursts forth into gaudy peacock strut of an Almodovar or Jarman fashion show/Pride float.

What a gift we have in the nouveau Incoherence. And in Mandico, a new luminary of dangerous Parisian surrealist transgression. If he keeps it up we can slide in next to De Sade, Huysmanns, Batailles, Genet, Corbiere, Baudelaire, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. There's surely a reason Americans like Terry Southern, Hemingway, and Henry Miller all had to go to Paris before they could unleash the full gorgeous obscenity of their human howls.

Get over it, America! it's just hair. 

(above) from Mandico's newest, She is Conann - a gender revisionist Conan the Barbarian if played by seven different female actresses of different ages, slashing their way into legend. "What if there was a talking dog,"  you ask? Let it be so. Your cannibalized artist souffle de violence glam punk prétentieux is ready.

NOTES
1.("If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts.")


FURTHER RELEVANT READING:

Isles of Löwensohn: THE WILD BOYS, LET THE CORPSES TAN

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