Dir. Bertrand Mandico (2023)
The story of Conan, retold as a woman with different aesthetics through the different eras of time.
I have no problem with filmmakers and storytellers trying to reinvent classic characters, so long as their retelling is, indeed, a reinvention and not a pandering cashgrab. The classic tale of Conan is a sword-and-sandals mainstay, created during the pulp magazine era of the 1930's to enthrall those looking for adventure through a fantasy lens and carrying through all the way up to the modern version of the character from 2011's Conan the Barbarian film starring Jason Momoa. This time around, the character is rechristened Conann and turned into a female, giving the fairer sex a chance to become brutal barbarian warlords in this gender-bending and sexually fluid arthouse film.
The story of Conann is told throughout the ages, starting in ancient Sumeria and finishing sometime in the near future. Each different era of Conann, taking place at ages 15, 25, 35, 45, 55, and again as an aged woman in death, is told with a different artistic aesthetic and thematic flair. Throughout each era, Conann rips and tears through anyone in her path on the way to becoming the queen of death, the story existing as an overview of her life leading up to her eventual replacement on her throne. It's a visually interesting film with only the barest threads of a narrative, instead focusing on style and creativity over substance. While this does make the movie a bit less watchable, it's definitely one that will make the arthouse fans happy.
The biggest problem with She Is Conann is its utter weirdness. It's an incredibly bizarre film, one that struggles to ever really make its point while also often failing to maintain the audience's interest. It's a lot of philosophical rambling dotted with not enough killing, with lesbian love affairs thrown in seemingly just to pass the time more than for any real point. I feel sure that there is some larger message on display here, something about wanting to skip through your own personal history to only the good parts and the pieces of you that would be lost along the way were you to do so. There's also a message about brutality and the humanity inside those who commit such acts that suffers from it, but writer/director Bertrand Mandico seems to go out of his way to make these messages as unattainable as possible.
It's difficult to describe this film as enjoyable, though I'm sure there will be some who do. It's definitely a beautiful film in some ways, with the different eras represented being delivered through dramatically different means. There's just simply not enough substance to make the film worth a watch. It's weird for the sake of weird, and it doesn't do much in the way of entertaining in its effort to be strange. Dog-faced messengers spouting freshman psych platitudes (and for some unknown reason carrying a polaroid camera to document Conann's history) and sparkly sword fights in black and white do not an entertaining film make. And while the film seems to be inspired by everything from Mad Max to Kill Bill, it does all of its predecessors dirty by failing to do anything with the techniques of its influences.
Altered Innocence, who are distributing the film, have made their name telling mostly LGBT stories in interesting ways and through novel approaches. The same idea is present here, telling a female-powered story in a unique and visually-appealing way. Unfortunately, much like a lot of their filmography, it seems to exist solely to check a box, trying desperately to update an ancient story through different camera lenses and filters while failing to maintain the magic present in the original. Conan can be a woman, there's nothing wrong with that. But Conan should, ultimately, be Conan, or there's no reason to carry on the name, extra letter besides. The film's primary sin is its lack of appeal to fans of its namesake and lack of bridge-building to a new audience. There's just not enough meat here on its almost two-hour bones.
Who this movie is for: Arthouse aficionados, Sword-and-sandals fans, Black and white stans
Bottom line: While She Is Conann checks a lot of boxes for arthouse fans, there's not a whole lot here for anyone else. It's visually stunning, and there are a ton of great displays of technique here, but the narrative is lacking and there's very little to appreciate beyond the visual flair. I'm a huge fan of boutique distributors, and Altered Innocence is no difference. Unfortunately, I wasn't a big fan of this one, though it will likely sell its allotted copies just from collectors alone. If you're one of the target audience, you'll likely appreciate this one either way.