Fantastic Fest 2021: AFTER BLUE (DIRTY PARADISE) is an Erotic Masterpiece

Bertrand Mandico’s latest After Blue (Dirty Paradise), transpires in the far flung distant future after the earth has been rendered uninhabitable, with humanity fleeing to their new home, the titular After Blue. Here the men quickly die off and only the women survive as they choose to live a more stripped down lifestyle — no complex machines and reside in smaller villages with no traveling, to avoid unnecessarily harming their new home. One of their most important new rules however, is whenever evil appears it is rooted out immediately and that is where our story begins. While playing with her friends young Roxy (Paula Luna) happens upon a woman (Agata Buzek) who has been sentenced to death and buried up to her neck on the beach, awaiting the tide. The naive girl pities the condemned woman and releases her. She then offers Roxy three wishes and promptly murders her three friends. Roxy’s mother Zora (Elina Löwensohn) is then given a choice, they will take the life of her daughter or take a Chanel rifle and a horse and hunt down the convict known as Kate Bush in the mountains.

From there the mother daughter pair travel the surreal dreamlike landscape looking for the criminal, encountering the planet’s indigenous life, monsters, designer androids and single women just looking for love or something more. In this world without men, women still marry, but other women, and have children through artificial insemination. It’s this journey that doubles as both a coming of age and a sexual awakening for Roxy, who along the way falls for almost everyone and thing they come across. This theme of sexual awakening is echoed by Kate’s third eye, which Roxy omits from her descriptions of the criminal, for those looking to catch her, which is located in her pubic region. No doubt there’s a tremendous amount to unpack here both metaphorically and matter-of-factly in the two hour plus runtime that felt like the acid western was influenced by the likes of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, and David Cronenberg to name a few.

While the film could have easily occupied itself with Roxy’s many human and non-human sexual exploits, in a galaxy far far away. It’s the mother daughter dynamic, with Zora struggling to not dampen her daughter’s sexual awakening, while dealing with her own loneliness, which really drew me in and added a welcomed dynamic to the film. Elina Löwensohn offers up a performance that is at times melancholic, at times maternal, and much more nuanced than I expected, even flirting with some rather dark choices. It’s when the pair encounter the wealthy Sternberg (Vimala Pons) who lives in the mountains with her cyborg husband, that Zora is forced to finally make some hard choices as Sternberg takes an interest in her while Roxy falls under the spell of the android. It’s a rather lurid stretch of film that uses this time spent in her compound to dig into the characters motivations, and how this journey to kill this woman Roxy is in love with, has changed their relationship forever.

Simply stated, After Blue (dirty Paradise) will no doubt be the best lesbian acid western you will ever see. Bertrand Mandico crafts an erotic masterpiece that channels everything from Emmanuelle, to Barbarella, to Alejandro Jodorowsky – as it constructs its lurid futuristic tale. Elina Löwensohn is a force to be reckoned as always, with newcomer Paula Luna an electric presence on screen, and an actor I will be watching for in the future. While After Blue is massively dense with metaphors and references, there’s also some astounding world building here as well as a cinematographic style that is as dazzling as the film’s subject matter. Its an assured and captivating effort that will no doubt be lost on some, but for those willing to go on this journey it will offer them a visceral vision pure decadence and splendor.

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