Awash in psychedelic, dripping neon acid rain and grimy apocalyptic debauchery, women wander the wasteland, having abandoned their home and the men who resided there. Technicolor dust swirls across the foggy beach, sand coating a translucent designer rifle and sweeping over a scowling head buried beneath the surface. The sky a dazzling prismatic display of nebulous cosmic rays and imposing celestial bodies above a vortex of hypnotic deceit and corrosive, rotting madness. Sex, drugs, violence, and pulsating synths flood the gritty wilderness of After Blue, a planet of chaotic anarchy and chromatic incoherence.
“To be incoherent means to have faith in cinema, it means to have a romantic approach, unformatted, free, disturbed and dreamlike, cinegenic, an epic narration.” This is the mantra of director Bertrand Mandico, author of the Incoherence Manifesto, his personal movement of cinema defined not by clarity but by thick atmosphere and mesmerizing visuals. Without context for Mandico’s personal brand of cinematic anarchy, After Blue (Dirty Paradise) is understandably confounding, a bizarre amalgamation of the sexed up science fiction camp of Barbarella (1968) and the acid-drenched western inflections of Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970), but with even less focus on narrative and featuring a gothic wasteland bandit antagonist known as Kate Bush, a name that stands out in wildly stark contrast to the fluid French dialogue.
In the midst of its shimmering technicolor madness, if you can manage to jump onboard Mandico’s train of incoherence and accept the constantly escalating madness on the surface of After Blue, the extended hallucinatory trip is an absolute blast. Within its blinding, dreamy surrealism there’s a comfortable wavelength of letting the film’s maximalist effort of sight and sound wash over you, appreciating the stunning and dedicated aesthetic of it all while Pierre Desprat’s haunting synths infuse hazy ethereal energy. The plot itself is stripped down to the bone, more focused on building the rules and innerworkings of the female dominated wilderness than crafting an intricate and satisfying arc. Focusing on bleach-blonde heroine Roxy (sporting the fashionably punk nickname “Toxic” and played to perfection by Paula Luna), our time on After Blue begins when Toxic finds a woman buried beneath the sand on the beach, and after listening to her pleas and setting her free, learns she is notorious criminal Kate Bush.
Incensed by Toxic’s actions, the leaders of the society in which Toxic and her mother Zora reside demand the two track down the murderous outlaw and they set out, facing the harsh environment of the blood-soaked, mystical landscape they inhabit as they seek her. As the journey progresses, what’s even more impressive than the film’s stripped down, strangely functional symbiosis of minimalist narrative and maximalist atmosphere is Mandico’s dedication to the way he crafts his work almost exclusively while shooting. Nothing is altered, touched up, or added in post, the dazzling visuals on screen all crafted in the moment, with the performers. Given the film’s staggering and lavish sci-fi/fantasy visuals it’s a constantly impressive feat to witness, with beautiful sets and delightfully creative props.
The challenge of After Blue (Dirty Paradise) is that the average viewer lacks any of this context that feels importantly additive to the film’s strengths, putting a tall barrier to entry in front of anyone stumbling across the film. There’s little indication that Mandico cares about being a crowd pleaser in any sense of the word, but it does feel as though more viewers will find themselves bewildered and lost by his transcendent novel style rather than awestruck and mesmerized. When not in a perplexed state of detachment from the film’s ethereal, psychedelic nonsense, there’s an immense wonder within its bold, transgressive approach. Mandico is insistent on dismantling gender boundaries by literally killing the concept of binary sex, creating a liberated world that has evolved past the need for traditional societal roles, a world beyond a need for sex for the sake of procreation, bodies no longer a point of objectification, now vessels of true autonomy without fear of persecution.
If it sounds like a lot – it is. After Blue (Dirty Paradise) packs a lot into its 130 minute runtime, which is admittedly quite exasperating even when you’ve managed to find Mandico’s faith in cinema, and its frankly baffling insistence on its extended joke of calling its primary antagonist Kate Bush becomes quite tired by the 115th flat insertion of her name in the middle of elegant French. Regardless of it all, finding that perfect vibe when witnessing this dazzling fantasy of violence, sex, and the grotesque is a delightful cinematic experience, and there’s certainly not much else like it.