Enfant terrible Bertrand Mandico, an incredibly talented French filmmaker who has a wellspring of visual and narrative ideas that frequently explore themes of self-actualization and eroticism, returns to feature filmmaking with After Blue (Dirty Paradise). Carrying precisely the abstract and ponderous nature you’d expect from Mandico, the film is frequently a visual and aural delight. And while those visual ideas aren’t always matched by the narrative, After Blue is rich with texture and has received a worthwhile Blu-ray release from Altered Innocence. Sporting a couple of special features in addition to a booklet including an interview with Mandico, this Blu-ray release is Worth A Look.
Before taking off for the planet of After Blue, let me remark that this is the first of Mandico’s work that I’ve seen. Many critics I respect hold him in high esteem and I own Blu-ray copies of his shorts (Apocalypse After, out now from Mondo Macabro and Altered Innocence) and his first feature, The Wild Boys (also out on Blu-ray from Altered Innocence), and plan to take those in posthaste. But if After Blue is any indication of the filmmaker’s prowess, then I believe the acclaim is more than deserved. From the opening sequence of the film, I knew I was about to watch something from someone who cares deeply about their ideas, using the visual medium to reflect and the audio to lull the audience into its dreamy depths.
As you can imagine from the reading above, After Blue can be slippery when it needs to be grounded and soft when it needs to be sharp, but those flaws are supplanted by a cavalcade of textural pleasures that do indeed have something to say about the film’s many ideas about identity and what defines femininity when masculinity is nowhere to be found. On After Blue, a kind-of post-Earth planet in another galaxy, women rule over a landscape dominated by gorgeous flora and fauna. But the atmosphere isn’t suitable for men, as it turns their hair against them, slowly choking them to death.
Alright, the stage is set. In comes Roxy (Paula Luna), who digs up a mystical being-slash-murderer named Kate Bush (Agata Buzek) and unfortunately alters her fate forever. With Kate Bush out and causing chaos almost immediately, Roxy and her hairdresser mother Zora (Elina Löwensohn) are tasked by their community’s elders to track down Kate Bush and kill her. Naturally, dangerous, wintry terrain is there to greet their cursed voyage to redemption.
If Alejandro Jodorowsky set the standard for acid westerns with big visual ideas, then this film repurposes the format to reveal even further depths of creativity and expression available. Although I felt frequently transfixed by Mandico’s lyrical direction, being more obsessed with movement than anything else on screen, I often felt at a distance from whatever profundities Mandico wants us to pick up along the way. And at a slack 129 minutes, it can often feel a bit trying to stay in the kind of languid headspace the film operates within. That being said, the visuals are often just so beautiful and lush with texture that you could care less.
All in all, After Blue is replete with genuine, hand-crafted artistry the likes of which Karel Zeman and V?ra Chytilová would adore and a mood that I can only imagine Kate Bush would adore. Whether you take that as an endorsement is up to you.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Get transported to the world of After Blue (Dirty Paradise) with Altered Innocence’s single-disc (BD-50) Blu-ray release that’s housed in a clear amaray case that also offers a 20-page booklet including an interview with Mandico by Mathilde Henrot. The case is housed in a limited-edition slipcover designed by Sister Hyde (available exclusively at VinegarSyndrome.com). The disc boots up to a standard menu screen with options to set up subtitles, choose scenes and browse special features.
Bertrand Mandico is the kind of visual stylist that uses a lot of in-camera effects, both an admirable feat and curio to watch as he frequently overlays optical filters over his footage. This can make whatever is beyond the filter to look a bit soft, but the varying strong colors and hues are handled capably by the AVC encode. Close-ups look true and offer a really beautiful, natural layer of film grain as well. For a film that vacillates wildly in color and showcases a gradient that can easily overtake finer details, it was a pleasure to see this 1080p presentation resolve it all nicely.
As mentioned earlier, After Blue offers up a dreamlike aural experience thanks to its lush soundtrack by Pierre Desprats and the remarkable post-sync audio work done by Mandico. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix delights in all the different environments and atmospherics, showcasing just how well the audio was mixed in post-production. Dialogue is clearly heard, which is good as most of the lines are uttered rather softly and solemnly. The synths on the score gain some nice dimension in the surround channels as well.
Aside from the 20-page booklet that includes an interview with Mandico, After Blue is a bit spare in the supplements category. Luckily, if you’re a fan of the film, you’ll be rewarded with 12 extra minutes of unseen footage set to new music by Pierre Desprats and an HD presentation of Mandico’s 2020 short titled The Return of Tragedy.
Cosmic oddities unfold on the planet of After Blue in Bertrand Mandico’s newest feature, which is a great showcase for the filmmaker’s visual prowess. And although the narrative is much too slack for this many ideas, the film frequently transfixes in its commitment to expression through in-camera effects (shot on 35mm). The A/V presentation is solid with an excellent video transfer and a thorough audio mix to match with some informative bonus features to follow. The single-disc Blu-ray release from Altered Innocence is Worth A Look.