She is Conann is not a Conan film. The characters are mostly here, including the addition of Red Sonja. But the acid dream of She is Conann has other ideas on its mind. In a weird, nightmarish feminine LGTBQ vision of the Barbarian. We see the iconic character through various stages of her life, bathing the brutal character’s journey in a tub of blood, glitter, and an array of strobing lights. Oh, and there is a humanoid dog named Rainer because, why not?
This vision of Conan The Barbarian is wonderfully anarchic in its style. In fact, the script might be frustratingly vague in its meaning. However, one cannot deny the visual artistry composed in each frame of this movie.
[Warning: You may find mild spoilers for She is Conann below. Warning for mention of suicide.]
What is Bertrand Mandico’s She is Conann about?
The film, written and directed by Bertrand Mandico, tells the story of Conann, who is portrayed by various actresses at different stages of her life. In the first part, she is shown as a child who becomes an orphan after her mother’s death. The second part portrays her transformation into a warrior and her pursuit of vengeance. The following chapter shows her future in the Bronx, followed by her transition into old age.
Along her journey, the hellhound Rainer is always by her side, providing prophecies and wisdom. He appears to manipulate Conann, similar to Little Finger from Game of Thrones, and captures photos of her journey with a camera.
With each stage of her life, the film noticeably becomes metaphorical, as Conann kills herself to evolve into a new version of the character. And with each new version, a new actress takes the lead as the iconic barbarian. The suicidal iconography might feel nebulous, but it seems like Mandico is making a statement.
Themes and aesthetics within this Altered Innocence film
Thematically, She is Conann could have many meanings. From this writer’s perspective, it feels like a statement on Hollywood running franchises into the ground. In this day and age, a great idea gets recycled, rebooted, and rehashed until the public makes it unusable. Rainer could be seen as the David Zaslav type, destroying the golden age of Hollywood. However, there are many ways to dissect this gruesome wonder.
The movie is wildly abstract in design, like someone colliding The Fountain, The Northman, and Titane into an odd artistic mixture. It’s overwhelming conceptually, and might have been better served by a longer runtime.
The cinematography is wickedly stylish, glossy in photography texture, and illuminated like a nightclub in various sections with intense strobing over multiple sequences. The film is composed in a bright palette of black and white, with myriad moments switching to a violent pink aesthetic. And not to mention, it’s incredibly gory, with a surprising amount of flesh chewing. It’s beautiful but also nasty.
Adding to the aesthetic, Anna Le Mouël demonstrates impressive production design; for a film made on a small budget, each scene is heavily detailed. She is Conann utilizes sets instead of locations, but the elaborate craftsmanship makes the intimate setting feel vastly alive. The barbaric wastelands are often bathed in excessive falling ash and sparkly glitter, giving the impression that a female metal band might overtake the environment.
The same is true of the make-up and costume design. The style of both felt like the creatives were preparing for the most cutting-edge runway show.
A Banksy-inspired vision of Conan the Barbarian
While watching She is Conann, one cannot help but consider the prolific street artist Banksy. The execution of a Banksy piece can take many forms, but generally, his artwork is defiant towards conformity and consumerism. For example, his artwork “Napalm” depicts Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse holding hands with a screaming child in wartime Vietnam. The image is provocative but deeply haunting in its conception.
She is Conann is similar to a Banksy work. Instead of an experimental image of a can of soup or a leopard walking next to a barcode, the property Conan represents the soup product. Conan’s iconic name is simply a tool to invoke a franchise feeling. We walk in expecting a female version of Conan, with sword battles, monsters, and mayhem. Instead, it’s a deconstruction of modern Hollywood and its evolution into prioritizing product over art.
Final thoughts on She is Conann
Because of this, She is Conann will only be for some, and might alienate some Conan fans. Expectations are indeed everything when entering the experience. The new take is an unflinching, avant-garde adaptation of Conan the Barbarian at its maximum. It is stylishly grotesque and inspired in its playfulness with the property of Conan the Barbarian. Gnarly aspects aside, the visual nature of the film is undeniably beautiful in its violence.
Mandico’s dark and fantastical reimagining is open to broad interpretation, but not easily accessible. The movie is not aiming for mainstream appeal, as it combines cannibalism, humanoid canines, and ultra-violence. It is the equivalent of street art, rebelling against the system and not demanding a profit. This Conan the Barbarian is not like your Dad’s, but rather one with the spirit of Banksy.
Learn more about She is C0nann and where it’s playing on Altered Innocence official site here. I first saw this film at Fantastic Fest 2023, for more of my coverage of the films there, as well as our other coverage of Film Festivals, visit the Film Festivals archive.