Vague Visages’ After Blue review contains minor spoilers for Bertrand Mandico’s 2021 movie. Check out more analytical breakdowns in VV’s Film Reviews section.
After Blue is the latest offering from prolific experimental French filmmaker Bertrand Mandico (The Wild Boys). The movie envisions a world after Earth, aka after blue, where only women have survived because the men succumbed to deadly ingrown hairs. Teenager Roxy (Paula Luna), who’s been given the cruel nickname “Toxic” by a trio of frenemies, wanders the desolate but beautiful wasteland in search of meaning, despite the fact that her community would rather see this hideous clone cast out. They get the opportunity to do just that when Roxy unknowingly releases a vengeful spirit known by the hilarious moniker Kate Bush — she’s having a great year — and the quiet kid is forced, alongside her well-meaning mother Zora (Elina Löwensohn), to hunt Kate down and kill her. Along the way, the duo is haunted by the spirits of those the witch has already murdered in her quest for revenge.
That’s the basic framework of After Blue, but considering this sprawling space epic/western hybrid runs to over two hours, suffice to say there’s a lot more lurking beneath its glittery surface. Or is there? Mandico seemingly wants to make a point about feminism, but much of the nudity and lesbian love scenes feels like leering, and there’s no clear message to be gleaned from any of it either. It’s tough to decipher what he’s getting at, despite the undeniable beauty on show. After Blue is a gorgeous looking film, from the orangey sea foam to the moody blue lighting and evocative costumes (so many great hats!). The color scheme is defiantly girly, which helps create the woozy atmosphere of the luridly sapphic planet. At the same time, although the sets are beautiful, Roxy and Zora rush through them far too quickly during their quest. It would’ve been great to get a better look at the finer details. After Blue also could’ve used more creatures, with a super cool practical effect towards the end making audiences yearn for what could’ve been.
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After Blue is about sexual awakening in a very literal sense, with Roxy seemingly unable to resist pleasuring herself every time she lays down on any kind of surface. Frustratingly, there’s no real resolution for her struggles. Likewise, the movie’s framing device, which finds Roxy detailing what happened to an unseen interrogator — it’s actually a barely-disguised excuse for an exposition dump — is left unexplained. Without it, the movie would be nigh-on incomprehensible; however, it’s tough to justify including a wraparound that doesn’t pay off and seemingly just gives the filmmakers more opportunities to include pretty imagery. After Blue is very avant-garde, arguably to its detriment, and it’s also much too long — 30 minutes could easily be shaved off the film’s runtime without losing any of the sorely-lacked momentum required to keep viewers invested in the story. The subtitle for the movie is “Filthy Paradise” and that elucidates exactly what the vibe is here. The women have these weirdly hairy necks, but crucially no beards, and Kate Bush has long nails that definitely aren’t lesbian friendly. Moreover, their weapons are named after high-end fashion designers, which is surely another deliberate choice.
The After Blue performances are generally pitched between moody and introspective (Luna), empathetic yet also desperate (Löwensohn) and wildly hammy (a couple of marauders the mother-daughter duo encounters along the way, one of whom is attempting an approximation of a Scottish accent for no discernible reason). Elle star Vimala Pons almost runs away with the whole film as the wily, mysterious Sternberg, who dresses like Stevie Nicks and threatens to seduce everyone and everything in her path. After Blue’s sole male character is an android (which seems fitting), who is enslaved by Sternberg for vaguely defined sexual gratification, and dreams about freedom too. Perhaps Mandico is making a point about how we’re all trapped by our own selfish desires and need to break free to fully be ourselves. Or maybe he just thought it would be cool to include a man in the kind of role that’s been occupied by women, consciously and otherwise, since cinema began. Taken purely as it’s presented, though, the message, if there even is one, is muddled at best.
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At least After Blue isn’t completely impenetrable, and it is lovely to look at, but if there’s a strong feminist statement being made — underneath the flagrant nudity and sexual escapades — it’s buried pretty deep. This challenging movie has plenty of style to spare but searching for substance may be an insurmountable task for most.
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Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.