REVIEW: Cucalorus finishes up with ‘After Blue,’ a French throwback to ‘80s sci-fi fantasy films

Boyce Rucker, Intern

This year’s Cucalorus Film Festival showcased strong films from both inside and outside the U.S. territory. The festival comes to an elegant finish with a then-secret film for its Convulsion series, a series of out-of-the-norm films that feature gratuitous amounts of violence, sexual content and horrific themes. These are the elements that encapsulate filmmaker Bertrand Mandico’s ethereal portrait of a dark and mystical world in “After Blue.” The French-language film is a mystical sci-fi film that boasts world-building and an atmosphere reminiscent of ‘80s films.

The film is set on the post-apocalyptic planet of After Blue, a virgin planet where only women can survive its intense conditions. A teenager named Roxy (Paula Luna) mistakenly frees an evil figure known as Kate Bush (Agata Buzek) from a trap after she offers Roxy three desireful wishes. This leads to Roxy’s friends being brutally murdered by Bush. Under scrutiny by her village community, Roxy and her mother Zora (Elina Löwensohn) are exiled and forced to embark on a journey to hunt down and kill Bush. On their expedition, they encounter fantastical circumstances and numerous figures, such as the artist Sternberg (Vimala Pons). The mother and daughter are tested by sexual temptation from powerful forces that could lead them to a dark fate.

The film is a love letter to ‘80s films, and it shows through its noteworthy visual aesthetic. The film opens with a neon-lit title card that features a vaporwave-esque font. The opening immediately pulls us into the film’s psychedelic atmosphere, as we’re introduced to Roxy’s narration while she stares blankly into the camera. This atmosphere carries over into the story’s intro on a beach, where Roxy is with her obnoxious friends, who taunt her and give her the nickname “Toxic.” It’s easy to initially think of this location as a wasteland upon first glance, but it’s when we see the ocean and Roxy’s friends running in to skinny dip that we realize it is a beach. This distinction informs us that it may be a post-apocalyptic setting, but it is not about doom and gloominess. The film is more focused on feminine freedom and building up a world that is dynamic, paying homage to the ‘80s.

Each set piece is imaginative and showcased in vivid detail. The environment blends together the mystifying elements of fantasy adventure films with the dystopian props and modernity found in sci-fi. The film’s design is comparable to Ridley Scott’s presentation in films like “Legend” (1985) and “Blade Runner” (1982). Dark forests and desolate lands are ornamented by a bluish hue and film grain that calls back to the ‘80s, but it never feels like a direct copy of those films. The two genres never clash to feel jumbled or incongruent with one another. The result is a transcendent world that never ceases to be visually stunning and allows us to become more invested in it than we would the plot.

Cucalorus airs a secret screening on Nov. 14th. (Cucalorus Film Festival)

The film hones in on femininity as a central theme, though it gets too entrenched in visual glamour and world-building to be notable. The film normalizes nudity as the characters wear sheer clothing and engage in sexual acts. This aspect does not shock us too much after we immerse ourselves into the film’s world. Additionally, hair is fatal in this world as the men previously died from having internally grown hair. Consequently, the women must survive by shaving their neck hair with a blue energy knife. The film paints a society that rejects present-day norms and gives into a newfound freedom. The film is an exercise in minimalist worldbuilding. However, the themes are not complex or subtle enough to say something meaningful for feminism. In some instances, the way the film tries to capitalize on the theme can be comical and overindulgent, whether or not it is intentional. One scene between Zora and Sternberg shows the two commenting on each other’s guns, one model called “Gucci” and the other “Chanel.” Tongue-in-cheek humor is a staple of B-movies, but it does not mesh well with this film.

Additionally, it seems like the women are slightly objectified throughout the film, particularly in sexual encounters. Multiple scenes show Roxy envisioning and masturbating to Bush, who is depicted as a nude woman whose body the camera glides over in a closeup shot occasionally. Long and uncomfortable closeups on kisses also counteract the defetishization of women that we would associate with feminist themes. Roxy is eventually enamored by a twisted sexual encounter she has with a rare male later on in the film, who she later fantasizes about. The film is very unclear in trying to emphasize its theme. We cannot be certain if the film is supposed to further empower female independence, or if it is trying to show pros and cons to a world without men. An incoherent narrative is a reason for this confusing theme presentation.

The premise of the film is intriguing and feels new, but the narrative is incoherent and lacks depth. As previously mentioned, aesthetics, world-building and production design are the film’s strong points. But for these elements to be effective, the film needs a deeper narrative to be able to convey these ideas and lend itself to a deeper meaning. The characters are not well-developed either, it seems like they are objects meant to simply advance the film, rather than fleshed out characters we can root for and relate to. Roxy could be an interesting character, but there is no easy way for us to connect with her character, or recognize any development for her beyond sexual desires. 

“After Blue” is a fascinating B-movie with incredible world building and visual aesthetics. However, unclear thematic elements, a lackluster narrative and lack of character development make the film a confusing one to find meaning in. Nonetheless, it is a distinctive film for Cucalorus 27 to end on.

The film is scheduled for a Feb. 16, 2022 release in France. It is currently unknown when the film will release in the US.