Acid Western After Blue Is a Bad Trip

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Acid Western After Blue Is a Bad Trip

The Incoherence Manifesto—a sort of Dogme 95 attempt penned by filmmakers Bertrand Mandico and Katrin Olafsdottir—pledges cinematic incongruity in the following: Screenplay, manufacturing, effects, style, sophistication, time and geography, taste, cinematography and acting. Within this film logic, screenwriting traditions are forsaken; filming must be done on expired stock; all effects are practical; actors will alternate between non-acting and overacting; the product should be synthetic, unbound by the particulars of any one genre.

“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,” said Mandico. It’s a convenient thing, an incoherence principle; a standard of practice primed for especial worldbuilding, and as a buffer for critical assessment. If incoherence is baked into the film’s credo, can it ever really fail? Should the whole thing sputter into incognizance, it still succeeds on its own terms. But where something like Dadaism conceptualized its criterion as a rebuff against capitalist esthetics, the Incoherence Manifesto’s abstractions feel aimlessly contrarian.

Mandico’s acid Western After Blue (Dirty Paradise) tests this theory, often to its own detriment. Set on After Blue, a post-Earth planet of “ovarian bearers”—males die in infancy by choking on their own hair, truly—After Blue follows Roxy (Paula Luna), a horny, ditzy teenager who unknowingly unearths a malevolent woman during a beach trip and then has to hunt her down with the help of her intercosmic hairdresser mother.

Roxy (nicknamed Toxic by her awful friends, a strange half-jab at so-called toxic femininity) happens upon what looks like a rotting, decapitated head tucked into the sand. In actuality, there’s a neck, and a body too, hiding beneath the surface. Jolting awake, the formless woman promises to grant Roxy “three hidden desires” should she dig her out. Horny and ditzy as ever, Roxy agrees, trawling through the sand in search of the concealed body in an orgasmic display of low moans and thick, wet glitter.

The circumstances which might precipitate someone being lodged into the ground vary, but this beach burial was a precautionary measure for the people of After Blue. The woman Roxy digs up is Slavic vixen and convicted serial killer Katajena Bushovsky (Agata Buzek), nicknamed Kate Bush, an in-joke that quickly croaks but bravely persists for the film’s duration. The trigger-happy and newly mobile Kate Bush immediately guns down Roxy’s friends and vanishes.

Roxy, now the known village idiot who imperiled everyone, has to execute the murderess to save face. The hunt becomes a carnal pursuit with climactic stakes, blistered by avoidable sequences of witchy cults and turf wars. The question of whether Roxy will fuck or kill Kate Bush—all the while beset by guilt, a fascinating though wholly underwritten aspect of her character—is After Blue’s most captivating throughline. It’s a shame, then, that the film derails to a looser, toneless narrative instead of nurturing its small flame.

Much to my dismay, I’m hard-pressed to slap a feminist spin onto this isle of gun-toting sapphic bounty hunters. Penetration is still all the rage, with pornographic squelches soundtracking phallic, oozing set design. The masturbation sequences are a laugh, schlepping along the mythos of a photogenic female orgasm. Even when leaning away from the dick-swinging of it all, Mandico’s film plays out like low-concept tribadism clearly umpired by a man. I’m not saying it isn’t fun or erotic; admittedly, the film throbs with sexual urgency, but the kind that’s more horny than sexy, more itch than burn.

All of the Incoherence Manifesto’s precepts are there: Suspended temporality; fickle acting; a plasticky, stroboscopic feel; total spatial intelligibility; and glittery cum to boot. To its credit, After Blue is very easy on the eyes, reminiscent of the kitschy, saturated pulp mags Mandico is clearly borrowing from. But its illusory schtick is better suited for a short film, rather than being taffy-pulled into a feature with so many sugary gaps in logic and feeling. You’re better off taking an edible and pressing play on Hounds of Love.

Director: Bertrand Mandico
Writers: Bertrand Mandico
Starring: Elina Löwensohn, Paula Luna, Vimala Pons, Agata Buzek
Release Date: June 3, 2022

Saffron Maeve is a Toronto-based writer and critic who once had to be talked out of getting a Sy Ableman tattoo. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, MUBI Notebook, Screen Slate, and Girls on Tops, among other corners of the internet. You can unfortunately find her on Twitter.

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