Movies · Reviews

‘After Blue’ is the Hair-Raising Sci-Fi Acid Western of your Dreams

Listen. This one isn’t going to be for everyone. But if you’re a freak who loves goop and Gucci rifles, you’d do well to visit ‘After Blue.’
After Blue Dirty Paradise
By  · Published on August 31st, 2022

A melange of glitter, spores, and sand swirls along the coast. A group of young women wearing wool hairshirts picks their way through the tan stalagmites that dot the beach. The downcast face of one of their number spots something in the dunes. A rotting head — or so it would seem — adorned with a crown of seaweed. The girls try to remove the head, but as it blinks skyward. There’s a whole body under there.

While the others abandon the mystery to frolic in the waves, Roxy (Paula Luna) hangs back, enchanted by the piercing blue eyes gazing up at her. The woman (Agata Buzek), says she’ll grant three wishes if Roxy frees her. A jinn’s promise. What could possibly go wrong? Roxy begins to dig, and Katarzyna Buszowska emerges, alias: Kate Bush. Roxy doesn’t know it yet, but she has freed the boogeyman: a murderess condemned to be swallowed by the sea. As the blood of Roxy’s friends mingles with the lapping seafoam, she sits in shock: what has she done?

From its inciting incident, After Blue (Dirty Paradise) is upfront and unapologetic about its polymorphous approach to genre. This is a Queer-Sci-fi-Fantasy-Acid-Western. While that string of words might smack of word salad, it’s to writer-director Bertrand Mandico’s credit that all the puzzle pieces fit together so naturally. Eco-feminism, frontier myth-making, lesbian desire, and psychedelia are worthy bedfellows, it turns out.

After Blue takes place in the wake of an unspecified climate crisis. By some twist of fate, we’ve found a new home: After Blue, a bluntly-named replacement for the water-logged planet we took for granted. In the film’s production notes, Mandico clarifies that the film’s subtitle — (Dirty Paradise) — is not a judgment on the wildness of After Blue but a stark inevitability of colonialism. Human beings have a tendency to doom unsullied land with our very presence, however well-intentioned. And the citizens of After Blue are trying, as best they can, to avoid humanity’s past mistakes. There is no globalization or technology. They cut any hint of evil out at the root. Oh, right, and there are no men. Let me explain:

When humanity arrived on After Blue, it encountered a germ in the planet’s atmosphere that proved deadly to those assigned male at birth. Only AFAB folks are capable of co-existing with the virus’ strange ability to accelerate rogue hair growth. And so, in this intergalactic frontier with a strictly feminine edge, Roxy and her mother, Zora (Elina Löwensohn), become exiles. They may return on one condition: with the lifeless corpse of Kate Bush.

The glue holding After Blue’s various pieces in place is that it is, ultimately, a coming-of-age story. Roxy must figure out who she is, what she wants, and who she wants in this dangerous and beautiful world. Newcomer Paula Luna endows the bleached-blonde teen with a reckless curiosity and an earnestness that both gets her in trouble, alienates her from her mother, and ultimately allows her to carve out her own space on After Blue. She smokes writhing silkworms under the floorboards. She finds herself simultaneously terrified and mesmerized by the woman she’s been tasked with killing. And she even falls in love with an android (Michaël Erpelding) possessing tendril-like genitalia, the closest thing she’s come to seeing a “real-life” man.

If you swoon over in-camera optical effects and enthusiastically tactile mise-en-scene, After Blue’s two-hour runtime will wiz right by. Visually, Mandico and company have cross-pollinated the dreamy cinematic fantasies of Jean Cocteau, the anachronistic eye of Guy Maddin, and a sprinkling of the fleshy abandon of Fellini’s Satyricon. Shot in 35mm and devoid of CGI, After Blue is the kind of film you can reach out and touch; plentiful like a box of mold and pulsing with subterranean gas pockets and untold amounts of slime. For its part, Pierre Desprats‘ sultry, alien score is a marvel to behold. Somehow this man put disco and Ennio Morricone twangs in a blender, and we’ll be forever in his debt.

After Blue is keenly interested (and successful) in aligning itself with the Western-Noir tradition of questioning, rejecting, and otherwise subverting the Traditional Western’s obsession with frontier justice and lone heroism. Both Zora and Roxy are vocal pacifists who have no interest in their village’s quest for vengeance. They can barely shoot straight, let alone wrap their heads around taking a life. It’s refreshing in this age of “everything is a Western” to see a film that has both done its homework (Warren Beatty’s fur coat from McCabe & Mrs. Miller would suit Zora well) while also making an effort to bring something new to the table (a.k.a. sapphic, intergalactic El Topo).

Confession: when I first saw After Blue way back in TIFF’s 2021 Midnight Madness block, something about the setup’s biological approach to sex set off my (“wait, is this gender critical?” alarm). Ultimately After Blue‘s enthusiasm for defying binaries should assure us that that’s not what’s going on. (It’s worth noting that the film features the non-binary artist Franky Gogo. To boot: Mandico addressed the matter directly in Xtra Magazine, calling biological determinism “an abhorrent concept that turns my stomach.” Hopefully, that clears everything up).

After Blue (Dirty Paradise) is absolutely not a film for everyone. Its cultural interlocutors are vast (Barbarella and Orpheus? In this economy?). And the film’s pitiless embrace of the sexual, the sensual, and beyond (!) will be a barrier for most. That said, freaks rejoice: this is a gem you’re not going to want to miss.

After Blue (Dirty Paradise) is now available on VOD via AppleTV, Amazon, GooglePlay, Vudu, and Vimeo in North America.

Related Topics: , ,

Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).