Review by Sean Boelman
Bertrand Mandico’s She Is Conann is the type of film that it would be understandable to have an extreme reaction in either direction — love or hatred. Unique in its vision and executed stunningly well, She Is Conann is incredibly intriguing, so long as you embrace it on its surface and don’t try to dig too deeply into it.
The movie is a gender-swapped riff on Conan the Barbarian, telling the story of a fierce warrior traveling through time from the Sumerian era to the near future. Those looking for a traditional retelling of this story will be disappointed — although who would come into a Mandico film expecting anything traditional or faithful — but the French filmmaker creates an entertaining, fascinating movie nonetheless.
By featuring the protagonist played by different actresses, each ten years apart, Mandico essentially creates an episodic structure. Some sequences lean more into the familiar tropes of the fantasy genre, while others go in a more radical direction. Yet Mandico manages to make everything flow together nicely in a dream-like way.
Some of the weirder sequences might be a little difficult to palette for audiences. The final act, in particular, goes over the top in a way that’s likely to disgust those who are squeamish. However, considering how violent Conan the Barbarian and many of the other movies of the genre are, it’s fitting.
The actresses who play the various iterations of the protagonist are all outstanding — Claire Duburcq, Christa Théret, Sandra Parfait, Agata Buzek, Nathalie Richard, and Françoise Brion. Parfait probably stands out as the best of the group, but she also gets the meatiest of the sections. Elina Löwensohn’s supporting performance is also incredibly transformative.
If we’re evaluating the film on a purely aesthetic level, She Is Conann is utterly masterful. It’s such a unique, esoteric, and frankly chaotic vision, yet every frame works. It finds the perfect balance of scrappy yet epic and ambitious yet scaled to allow it to work as an homage to a genre known for its opulence.
However, as transfixing as She Is Conann is, it’s just a bit pointless. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have any themes or deeper meaning — there’s a lot to be found in the text about what barbarity actually means and how some things we embrace today might be the true barbarism. This is definitely a case of Mandico having a lot of ideas, and while many of them are incredibly compelling, the way he explores them is not always satisfying.
She Is Conann must be admired for its ambition alone, and as far as experimental films go, it’s a lot more broadly entertaining than most, apart from the extreme content that might put off some viewers. Granted, viewers seeking out the latest movie from a director like Bertrand Mandico probably know what they’re getting into, and that target audience will be delighted.
She Is Conann is now playing in theaters.