Cucalorus ends with “After Blue”, a French return to the fantastic sci-fi movies of the 80s – The Seahawk

This year’s Cucalorus Film Festival showcased strong films from both inside and outside the United States. The festival ends on a high note with a then-secret film for its Convulsion series, a series of off-the-wall films that feature gratuitous amounts of violence, sexual content and gruesome themes. These are the elements that sum up the ethereal portrait of filmmaker Bertrand Mandico of a dark and mystical world in “After Blue”. The French-language film is a mystical sci-fi film that claims world-building and an atmosphere reminiscent of 80s movies.

The film takes place on the post-apocalyptic planet of After Blue, a pristine planet where only women can survive its intense conditions. A teenage girl named Roxy (Paula Luna) mistakenly frees an evil figure known as Kate Bush (Agata Buzek) from a trap after she offers Roxy three desirable wishes. This leads to Roxy’s friends being brutally murdered by Bush. Under surveillance by her village community, Roxy and her mother Zora (Elina Löwensohn) are exiled and forced to embark on a journey to hunt down and kill Bush. During their expedition, they encounter fantastic circumstances and many figures, such as the artist Sternberg (Vimala Pons). Both mother and daughter are tested by the sexual temptation of powerful forces that could lead them to a dark fate.

The film is a love letter to ’80s movies, and it shows through its remarkable visual aesthetic. The film opens with a neon-lit title card that features a vaporwave-esque font. The opening immediately immerses us in the psychedelic atmosphere of the film, as we discover Roxy’s narration as she stares at the camera. This atmosphere is found in the intro of the story on a beach, where Roxy is with her obnoxious friends, who taunt her and give her the nickname “Toxic”. At first glance, it’s easy to think of this place as a wasteland, but it’s when we see the ocean and Roxy’s friends running around for a swim that we realize it’s a beach. This distinction informs us that this may be a post-apocalyptic setting, but that it is not about doom and gloom. The film is more focused on female freedom and building a dynamic world, paying homage to the 80s.

Each overall piece is imaginative and presented in great detail. The environment mixes the mystifying elements of fantasy adventure films with the dystopian props and modernity of science fiction. The conception of the film is comparable to the presentation of Ridley Scott in films like “Legend” (1985) and “Blade Runner” (1982). Dark forests and wasteland are adorned with a bluish tint and film grain reminiscent of the ’80s, but it never feels like a direct copy of those films. The two genres never clash to feel mixed up or incongruous with each other. The result is a transcendent world that never ceases to be visually stunning and allows us to invest in it more than we would in the plot.

Cucalorus airs a secret screening on November 14. (Cucalorus Film Festival)

The film focuses on femininity as a central theme, although it is too grounded in visual glamor and world-building to be noticeable. The film normalizes nudity as the characters wear see-through clothing and engage in sexual acts. This aspect does not shock us too much after having immersed ourselves in the universe of the film. Moreover, hair is deadly in this world, as men used to die from having hair that grew inside. Therefore, women have to survive by shaving their neck hair with a blue energy knife. The film portrays a society that rejects current standards and gives in to a newfound freedom. The film is an exercise in building a minimalist world. However, the themes are not complex or subtle enough to say anything meaningful to feminism. In some cases, the way the film tries to capitalize on the theme can be comical and overly indulgent, whether intentional or not. A scene between Zora and Sternberg shows the two commenting on each other’s arms, one model called “Gucci” and the other “Chanel”. Ironic humor is a staple of B-movies, but it doesn’t pair well with this movie.

Additionally, it appears that women are slightly objectified throughout the film, especially during sexual encounters. Several scenes show Roxy imagining and masturbating in front of Bush, who is portrayed as a naked woman whose body hovers over the camera in a close-up every now and then. The long, uncomfortable close-ups of kissing also counteract the defetishization of women that we would associate with feminist themes. Roxy is ultimately in love with a twisted sexual encounter she has with a rare man later in the movie, which she later fantasizes about. The film is very unclear trying to emphasize its theme. We can’t be sure if the film is meant to further strengthen women’s independence or if it tries to show the pros and cons of a world without men. An inconsistent narrative is the reason for this confusing thematic presentation.

The premise of the film is intriguing and seems new, but the narrative is inconsistent and lacks depth. As mentioned earlier, the aesthetic, world-building, and production design are the highlights of the film. But for these elements to be effective, the film needs a deeper narrative so that it can convey these ideas and lend itself to a deeper meaning. The characters aren’t well developed either, it seems like they’re items just meant to move the movie forward, rather than fleshed out characters that we can research and relate to. Roxy might be an interesting character, but there’s no easy way for us to connect with her character, or recognize a development for her beyond sexual desires.

“After Blue” is a compelling B-movie with incredible world-building and visual aesthetics. However, unclear thematic elements, a lackluster narrative, and lack of character development make the film confusing to find meaning. Nonetheless, it’s a distinctive film for Cucalorus 27 to end.

The film is scheduled for release in France on February 16, 2022. It is currently unknown when the film will be released in the United States.

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