One of my favorite films of last year, the surreal and brutal queer time traveling fantasy She is Conann is currently screening in New York via a freshly struck 35mm print. Along with those theatrical engagements, some hosted by the director himself, there is also a short program of 4 shorts also by Conann’s director Bertrand Mandico that is most definitely worth your time. The short block very aptly titled The Show Has Already Started is a 90 minute slice of surrealist insanity compiled of two shorts that complete the Barbaric Cycle of Conann, another short, and a fourth that acts as the glue that binds them for this viewing.
The wrap-around titled The Show Has Already Started is this meta commentary on the filmmaking process via a faux TV special/children’s show that features the appearance of Bertrand Mandico via a giant puppet. He along with the other hosts puts forth some commentary on his work while you get a pre show that feels like it could facilitate the perfect double billing if played before or after Conann. The second film Rainer a Vicious Dog in Skull Valley is a somewhat autobiographical prequel to Conann that features the dog headed hound of hell Rainer, who happens upon a playwright looking to adapt a stage production of Conann, with only women during the pandemic.
The film 30+ minute short is a rather intriguing metaphor for the Faustian bargain an artist is forced to make, as the playwright strikes a deal with Rainer to be able to produce his play. This is of course contingent that Rainer is given a role along with his muse and it goes completely off the rails as expected, but it’s an damning look at the creative process and the contentious relationship between art and commerce. It features many of the same players from Conann and was shot in a vacant theater during the pandemic and shares the film’s practical look and feel. Not seeing Rainer shouldn’t affect the enjoyment of Conann, but it definitely enriches the experience and allows you some more time with these great characters.
The next short, We Barbarians returns us to the world of Conann yet again and appears to take place during the filming of the film in another meta foray. So while the first film was this meta take on the initial germ of the idea, this is the next step during filming, and looks at another downfall of the creative process as we spend time with each of the actors involved with the film adaptation of Conann. Each interview discusses how they arrived to play their part, and how they each had their own creative vision once upon a time and had since surrendered that to be an actor to support this singular vision, that is not their own. They each made their own pacts to get where they are and here we finally get to see behind the mask of Rainer.
This film feels more like a companion piece to Conan, rather than its own story, like Rainer did. We get a moment with each actor that’s proceed by a title card with their name and character who speak about not only why they are in the film, but what they hope to accomplish. As the threads weave into one another the standouts for me were a bratty Claire Duburcq and Elina Löwensohn’s Rainer who I really started to warm up to hear. Surrounded by all this beauty Rainer feels like the kid who only gets to hang with with the cool kids because he’s got powers. Which make him probably the most accessible character in the film oddly enough as he/she stalks the set with a camera and sweater.
The final film, The Last Cartoon – Nonsense, Optimistic, Pessimistic is an extremely avant garde piece, that feels equal parts dream, proof of concept sketch and manifesto. Models and actors vamp across the screen and pose against a giant rear projections, while a french, german and english voice over delves into Bertrand Mandico’s thoughts on cinema. Composed of meticulously orchestrated shots and curated sets, the film feels like a peek into the interior the the directors mind. It’s a very abstract piece and one that really begs a bit more attention to fully grasp what it’s looking to achieve.
As far as short programs go, this felt more like an anthology film to be honest and the perfect companion to She is Conann. Not only do we get to see more of this glitter and gore covered landscape and the rogues gallery that inhabit it, but we get a peek behind the curtain at one of the most fascinating auteurs working today. If you haven’t seen the shorts will it hamper your enjoyment of She is Conann at all? Probably not, but if you enjoyed any of the directors previous films they’re definitely a treat and if you really enjoy Conann, they really help to expand that world in a way I wish more directors would do.