She Is Conann is a brutal queer retelling of an iconic classic. It is eclectic, but falls short in exploring traits outside its main character’s barbarism.
“Do you have any regrets?” That is the thematic question woven throughout Conann’s six lives, and her answer is devastating: “I have an ocean of regrets.” She Is Conann, a queer retelling of the iconic Conan the Barbarian story, is a decent work of French cinema. It is ambitious in capturing the lives of Conann across centuries and eras, from ancient barbaric times to the streets of New York, though it seems disjointed at times. She Is Conann is a worthy attempt at brutal, over the top, and shocking cinema. Conann’s story is told through striking black and white and color scenes shot on 35mm film.
She Is Conann features many appealing elements for fans of its director, Bertrand Mandico, and other eclectic filmmakers. This is partly due to Mandico’s 12-rule Incoherence Manifesto, which explains why the film rarely feels based in reality. Its cinematography and editing—especially in black and white scenes—evoke past generations of filmmaking, which supports the film’s earlier Conanns in primal settings and barbaric moments. Each younger Conann has the opportunity to embrace or avoid her future, while a hound-person photographs her journey like a fashion shoot for hell. Every time Conann travels to her next life (each 10 years older than her present age), she ponders what it means to be human and whether the barbaric life is worth living.
A constant theme in the film is that the desire to be the most violent creature of all time is met with a deep longing for love. Much of the film is relentlessly gory and disturbing, but moments of respite contain heavy, often well written dialogue. When She Is Conann isn’t busy churning its viewers’ stomachs, it’s trying with difficulty to paint a love portrait between the titular character and her romantic interest. These moments of intimacy are short-lived, and the lack of the supporting cast’s character development weakens deeper moments in the film.
Perhaps the best moments in the film occur when Conann ponders a life beyond violence and immortality, questioning what it means to create a legacy that truly lasts. As she matures, Conann learns from her regrets. She becomes increasingly complex, experienced, and thoughtful, but no less barbaric. This part is played well by all six actors who portray Conann at various ages.
She Is Conann has a runtime of 104 minutes, but feels much longer due to spanning centuries of history. The timeline feels disjointed, each new life of Conann’s not directly connecting to her previous experiences. Yet, in light of Mandico’s manifesto, the film’s incoherence is hardly blameworthy. It bucks against the typical moviegoer’s desire for everything to be meaningful, pretty, consistent, and wrapped up with a nice bow. Despite the linear timeline of successive decades in a barbaric woman’s conquest, much of the film feels scattered. If the film had a stronger message to hinge on, its irregularity would be a disadvantage; but since it’s so random, it is not negative that it feels scattered.
Nevertheless, She Is Conann often gets lost in the brazenness it portrays. Viewers looking for a deep queer love story will be disappointed, while those expectedly looking for a tale of conquest will wonder what goal Conann had other than simply murdering people from every decade possible. That doesn’t stop it from being a truly barbaric watch, it just fails in other aspects of romance and meaning.
Even the film’s ending, which arguably offers the most meaningful sequence in the film, is disturbing. The loosely unifying theme of She Is Conann is the inescapable violence of the barbarian. It’s how she came to power and immortality. But part of me wishes this retelling spent more time discovering the nuanced facets of its main character: her cunning, charm, and capacity for love.
Overall, She Is Conann is a shocking, eclectic retelling of the classic. It stuns in cinematography and bold filmmaking, but doesn’t seem to get deeper into the character’s supposedly multifaceted lives.
She Is Conann will be released theatrically in North America on February 2, 2024. Visit Altered Innocence’s website for the full list of screenings.