Paula Luna, Elina Löwensohn, Agata Buzek, Vimala Pons
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… best experienced as an all-encompassing fever dream, echoing back to so many bygone artistic traditions and beliefs that it has a nigh-on eternal quality to it …
Right from the first frame, After Blue transports the viewer to another place, another time. An outer space Themyscira, where only women live because all the men died out, as they smoke worms while brandishing Gucci laser rifles.
On this planet is a village where young Roxy (Paula Luna) lives with her hairdressing mother Zora (Elina Löwensohn), but after Roxy frees a homicidal criminal buried in the sand, they are both exiled until they can bring back the criminal’s head. Said criminal, played by Agata Buzek, is named Kate Bush. No, not the singer people are rediscovering thanks to Stranger Things… although she does live in the dreaming sensual world.
Pascale Granel’s cinematography gives the literal alien landscape a hazy retro aesthetic. It evokes Guy Maddin’s Twilight Of The Ice Nymphs in its walking dream visages, with some added Jim Henson-esque creature and set design, to create a world that makes Tarkovsky’s Stalker or Alex Garland’s Annihilation look certifiably grounded in reality by comparison. From there, Bertrand Mandico’s direction and scripting builds on the traditions of older French cinema, from Roxy’s New Wave-inflected narration to the broader Expressionism in the story’s smeared specifics.
Mandico also taps into the saucier side of French art (right down to inventing a new Emmanuelle book for Roxy to read at one point), creating a narrative all about repressed sexuality and pure, almost primal, femininity. It has a similar effect as Robert Egger’s The Lighthouse as the surreal circumstances of the story and locales gradually burn away at all the artifice to just leave the rawest form of gender expression behind.
It’s something of a sexual awakening dressed in acid-soaked Western clothing, with Roxy sinking into further contact with her own subterranean desires after encountering Kate Bush. The juxtaposition of sexuality with gunplay even gestures at Zardoz imagery, taking “the gun is good, the penis is evil” to an even further extreme.
Now, with all that said, actually discerning what the film is… well, about, isn’t so simple. It’s like trying to analyse someone else’s dreams when they can scarcely recollect them in the first place. The pacing, imagery, and especially the eclectic ‘80s worship in Pierre Desprats’ soundtrack (Tangerine Dream vibes), are meant to be seen through the third eye, whether it resides on one’s forehead or between one’s legs. Trying to apply logic to the whole thing not only feels beside the point for such an oddball film, but it might well be the most boring way to approach it to begin with.
Instead, rather than trying to break down the significance of ingrown hairs and liquid music, After Blue is best experienced as an all-encompassing fever dream, echoing back to so many bygone artistic traditions and beliefs that it has a nigh-on eternal quality to it; as if a story this primeval has always existed, but is only now being discovered and exhibited. And once you’re under its hypnosis, any other niggles fail to matter.