‘She Is Conann’ Review: A Glorious Glitter-Filled Gaze Into Violence and Identity
But in his latest feature-length trip through time and space, She Is Conann, director Bertrand Mandico imagines a world where Conan is actually a woman named Conann and her own journey through barbarity, all narrated by a dog-faced demon named Rainer in a bedazzled leather jacket á la Kenneth Anger. It’s a queer response to hyper-masculinity, of what we typically think of when it comes to barbarism. Instead, Mandico examines rage through queer love, revenge, and self-perception.
In broad strokes, She Is Conann is the story of the famed barbarian Conann, narrated by the aforementioned Rainer (Elina Löwensohn), a character modeled after cinematic auteur Rainer Fassbinder. Armed with a camera and a sharp tongue, Rainer has followed Conann throughout her different lifetimes. Every ten years, Conann is murdered by her future self, so each decade of Conann’s life is depicted by a different actor. The only constant is Rainer, a witness to the many lives of Conann, a voyeur of sorts who monitors her every move to be able to tell her story.
Such a plot description doesn’t capture the beauty, the ecstasy, and the awe of experiencing She Is Conann, whose visual style is both specific to Mandico while also paying homage to the queer experimental filmmakers of days past. And, ultimately, that’s what this film is: a stylish homage to the art of storytelling through the eyes of a bloodthirsty barbarian and her dog-demon counterpart. Mandico references filmmakers like Fassbinder, Anger, and Frederico Fellini, as well as films like The Night Porter and The Hunger. But Mandico never lets homage overshadow his own style and aesthetic approach. Each iteration of Conann is more glam rock than the next, with the 35-year-old Conann appearing in a disco ball-esque suit of armor with a massive sword. It feels like a David Bowie music video in the best possible way.
And that aesthetic approach is what will keep you sucked into She Is Conann. Glitter drifts on the wind across dreamy landscapes filled with corpses and barbarian warriors. As cliché as it may sound, Mandico imbues violence with beauty, grounding dreamscapes with gnarly violence and murder as Conann travels through time and space to discover her “true” identity. Each iteration of the titular barbarian is seemingly running from their past, trying to redefine themselves every decade by destroying a previous version of themself. This kind of harrowing ego-death made physical is terrifying, and yet Mandico’s flair for the fantastical makes such a nightmare feel all the more epic.
Frequent Mandico collaborator Löwensohn steals the show as Rainer, Mandico’s version of Virgil who guides us through the many lives of Conann. Wearing a full-face prosthetic, Löwensohn is severely limited in what she can do with her expressions. And yet, she delivers a hilarious and devious performance as the complicated Rainer, a strange anachronistic being that transcends time. Dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, he feels more akin to an eternal being flirting with humanity, capturing their follies with his camera for entertainment and maybe a bit of glory.
She Is Conann is ridiculous on paper, perhaps, but in practice, it’s a perfect queer film that speaks to the fluidity of identity, the power of sapphic love to the point of transcending time and space, and the bad-assery of watching women wield big swords in impeccable outfits. It is the definition of a vibe, and one that sword-loving lesbians are sure to gobble up with gusto. It’s bizarre, it’s sexy, and it’s disgusting, a perfect melding of my personal favorite aesthetic sensibilities. Mandico is a queer filmmaker on the cutting edge of experimental, yet mostly accessible, films that challenge our expectations of the genre film. And She Is Conann may just be his most accessible (read: watchable for a wider audience) than his previous works. If you want a taste of the future of queer cinema, then look no further than She Is Conann.
She Is Conann is a perfect queer film that speaks to the fluidity of identity, the power of sapphic love to the point of transcending time and space, and the bad-assery of watching women wield big swords in impeccable outfits.