Writer/Director Bertrand Mandico’s wildly imaginative She is Conann is more than just a female-led reimagination of Robert E. Howard’s pulp character. Playing Fantastic Fest 2023
Writer/Director Bertrand Mandico uses the Fantasy Film language of the 70s and 80s to conjure up an epic time/dimensional traveling tale. A story of fluidity in societal roles, barbarous violence, greed, power, and so much more in transcendent She is Conann.
In Millius’s epic one character asks his Conan “What is good in life?”. I suspect Mandico’s Conann (and the multiple actors that portray her) would say about the same thing as Millius’s iteration of the character. Conann, as portrayed by Claire Duburcq, Christa Théret, Sandra Parfait, Agata Buzek, Nathalie Richard, and Françoise Brion, is a woman first crushed by the violence of society – told she is too soft and loving in a harsh world – and slowly turns into that violence and thus conquering the world.
Each of the actors that take on Conann is almost a dare. Like one passing the baton of fire to the next without any misstep. However, it is Nathalie Richard who has the darkest and most daring of the Conanns. One that will raise eyebrows as much as it will debate and even ire. Though this is the beauty of Mandico’s film. The simple truth is that all iterations of Conann are the same person that was born of violence and trades in violence. No matter if they are a barbarian or a knight’s templar or a fascist.
The film is both a world without powerful men but also a world in which everything, but violence is rejected. The single male in this world is a literal dog, Rainer (Elina Löwensohn), the chronicler of Conann’s life. Clothed to resemble iconic director Werner Rainer Fassbender, the chronicler is also our/Conann’s guide to the ever-changing time and space and the challenges that Conann must confront from various times and places in history.
Mandico’s film is more of a feeling and a style rather than a cohesive narrative. The film shot primarily in black and white, beautifully might we add by Nicolas Eveilleau, with pops of color, is so effectively evocative of that hazy style of Fantasy Epics of yesteryear, you would swear that Geoffrey Unsworth or Alex Thompson photographed it. However, the visuals are not merely empty homage. Mandico and Eveilleau inject so much Queer Imagery into the masculine of the Fantasy Epic (both cinematic, visual, or otherwise) it flips those visuals into something freshly punk rock.
She is Conann is never anything less than a bolding and daring vision of LBGTQ+ at its most powerfully adroit and provocative.