The Devil's Nightmare

Color, 2023, 104 mins. 46 secs.
Directed by Bertrand Mandico
Starring Elina Löwensohn, Christa Théret, Julia Riedler, Claire Duburcq, Sandra Parfait, Agata Buzek, Nathalie Richard, Françoise Brion
Altered Innocence (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA HD) / WS (2.39:1)

After searing audiences' eyeballs She Is Conannwith The Wild Boys and After Blue (Dirty Paradise), French She Is Conannfilmmaker Bertrand Mandico returns with a third phantasmagoria that defies rational description. Obviously the title is a riff on Robert E. Howard's familiar sword and sorcery hero embodied across many media including books, comics, and two Arnold Schwarzenegger, though fans will likely be scratching their heads at seeing the idea of the warrior depicting from boyhood to elder king here turned into a stylized look at six stages in the life of a lesbian warrior (played by five different actresses and alternating black-and-white and color aesthetics).

In a strange soundstage afterlife, the aged Conann (Brion) is accompanied on a tour of her life and its violent highlights in roughly decade-hopping increments along with her dog-faced guide, Rainer (filmmaker and art house muse Löwensohn), who chronicles the escapades on film as one incarnation of Conann keeps dispatched the one before it. Running with the idea of the barbarian saga She Is Conanntaking place in a vague netherworld out of time and recognizable geography anyway, this She Is Conannone takes it to an extreme by including a brutalist futurescape, an '80s-style New York borough, and some settings that don't feel like anything on earth at all. That isn't even touching on the outrageous finale which really ought to be seen without advance warning to be fully appreciated.

Drenched in equal amounts of glitter and blood, She Is Conann is exactly what you'd expect a Mandico take on the sword-and-sorcery formula to be -- a gorgeous and often confounding experience with lots of gender bending and pop culture allusions. In some respects it feels like an updating of Roger Vadim's Don Juan '73 or If Don Juan Were a Woman with Brigitte Bardot as a gender-swapped take on the famous figure looking over her entire transgressive life, though of course the style here is far more extreme with lots of the director's in-camera effects trickery keeping you on your toes. She Is ConannIt's a film designed to be seen as large and as loud as possible, with its female-driven canvas of plundering and savagery making for an undeniably potent experience.

As with its releases of the director's prior two features, Altered Innocence has brought She Is ConannMandico's film to Blu-ray and DVD in high style with a visually and sonically faultless presentation. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track (mostly in French but also with some English and German) features optional English and Spanish subtitles, while Mandico's short work (which is quite extensive at this point) is represented with four selections. The multi-part The Show Has Already Started is a string of colorful and bizarre blackout sketches (some with muppets!), while Rainer, A Vicious Dog in Skull Valley (26m6s), We Barbarians (27m16s) and The Last Cartoon - Nonsense, Optimistic, Pessimistic (9m16s) are essentially stylistic companions to this film with Rainer obviously playing like a kind of prequel/ rough draft in many respects. Also included are the theatrical trailer and bonus trailers for The People's Joker, The Strangler, and Mandico's prior two films.

Reviewed on June 16, 2024