For this one, we’ve got a French film that doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page. What’s more, I can only find one theater in all of Portland that will screen it (Shout-out to the incomparable Hollywood Theatre!), and it only screened the film a grand total of ONCE. I wanted to review it specifically because I only had one showtime on one evening to catch it. I know I tend to say this a lot, but we’ve got a WEIRD one tonight, gentle readers.

After Blue begins with your basic sci-fi premise of humans in the distant future abandoning our run-down Earth to go colonize another planet. The kicker is that due to some bizarre property of the colony’s atmosphere, all male life inevitably dies and nothing without ovaries can live on the planet. Reproduction is still possible by way of refrigerated semen left over from Earth, but one has to assume that’s not going to be an option forever, not that it’s particularly relevant to the story.

What’s more, these colonists are zealous in making sure that mistakes of the past are never repeated and this new colony doesn’t go the way of Old Earth. This means that there are no nations or corporations, only small and remote villages. There’s no technology more advanced than a firearm and no transportation more advanced than horses carried over from Old Earth. I might add that the native wildlife includes vaguely humanoid plant-crystal beings referred to as “Indiums”.

In summary, what we’ve got here are all the ingredients for a sci-fi western with an all-female cast and a crew high on mescaline.

Our protagonist is Roxy, a young woman also known as “Toxic” (played by Paula-Luna Breitenfelder). At the start of the film, she’s playing on the beach with her bitchy so-called “friends” (played by Mara Taquin, Claina Clavaron, and Claire Duburcq) when the four of them come across a strange woman buried up to her head in the sand. Being the altruistic sort, Toxic takes it upon herself to excavate the beautiful stranger in dire need of assistance.

Trouble is, this particular woman is Katarzyna Buszowska, a notorious outlaw known by the nom de guerre of… wait for it… wait for it… I shit you not… Kate Bush (Agata Buzek). Turns out that Kate Bush had been buried in the sand so the tides could do the dirty work of executing her, until Roxy digs her out so Kate can murder Roxy’s three friends and escape.

So now a sexy and dangerous homicidal maniac is on the loose, three girls are dead, and it’s all Roxy’s fault. Naturally, this means that Roxy and her mother (a humble barber named Zora, played by Elina Lowensohn) are responsible for setting out to track down and kill Kate Bush. Though Roxy herself is conflicted about killing Kate Bush, in large part because of her wickedly erotic fantasies about the mysterious figure. And we’re off to the races.

I can’t possibly stress enough that this movie lives and dies on its gonzo presentation. Between the extreme close-ups, the pervasive “film stock” grit, the psychedelic colors, the retro analog visual effects, the trippy production design, the overall nightmarish subjective sense of the proceedings, and the abundant nudity, this feels like a movie right out of the bold and experimental ’70s. This is some Dario Argento shit, some Alejandro Jodorowsky shit right here. There’s no question that this film shares a strong lineage with such films as Mandy and The Love Witch.

It’s a shoestring arthouse French language film with a fever dream presentation. And the proceedings are constantly interrupted by a framing device in which Roxy narrates the film by talking with some unknown third party. It’s like this film was specifically designed to resist analysis by all but the snootiest and most hardcore of film buffs. Sure, the plot is easy enough to follow — it’s a straightfoward coming-of-age tale by way of a standard western “find and kill the villain” plot. It’s an unorthodox pairing of two boilerplate plots, but the two merge together surprisingly well in a way that keeps the proceedings easily trackable yet delightfully fresh.

That said, for better or worse, we’re still dealing with arch characters in a bugfuck setting. To say nothing of Roxy’s frequent visions that may or may not be real. As a direct result, there’s no telling when some weirdo curveball could come flying in or why it happened at all. At some point, there’s really nothing more to do except to sit back, let it all wash over, and try to take in what you can.

I know I was recently hard on Mad God — another arthouse film built more on atmosphere than on storytelling — but I’m still not convinced that Mad God had anything to get. At least After Blue has identifiable characters and a coherent storyline, there’s definitely a point in here somewhere. And of course it helps that the world of After Blue is significantly more beautiful and intriguing than the all-encompassing carnage and rot of Mad God.

If I really had to strain for a thematic point in After Blue, it’s in the rejection of binary morality. Roxy’s civilization is all about cut-and-dried binary thinking in terms of good and evil, bloodthirsty and ruthless in plucking out evil before it can take root and send the colony to the destructive ways of Old Earth. As the film unfolds, Kate Bush acts in erratic ways that don’t necessarily line up with someone who’s wholly good or wholly evil (though perhaps completely fucking insane). Furthermore, though Kate went ahead and killed three girls who frankly had it coming, Kate never really does anything to directly hurt Roxy, which complicates Roxy’s feelings toward the mission of killing her.

Additionally, Roxy and her mother both start the film as devoted pacifists who abhor violence. And now they’re tasked with killing a woman who may or may not be a dangerous psychopath. To say nothing of all the other lethal dangers our characters encounter on their quest. Time and again, Roxy and her mother have to grapple with the question of when lethal force is justified and how to find the courage to take a life when necessary.

Come to think of it, honesty is another recurring theme in this vein. The most prominent example comes right at the start, when Roxy admits to releasing Kate Bush. How much easier would this whole thing have been if Roxy had kept her mouth shut or lied about that? Is honesty really the best policy at all times?

The entire cast seems to be having a great time playing in this heightened sci-fi drug trip, but special kudos are due to Vimala Pons, who outright steals the show as a mysterious artist in a stellar hat. Kudos are also due to Breitenfelder and Lowensohn, both of whom work together admirably to give the film a much-needed anchor. And of course Agata Buzek totally nails the fine balance of a woman hot enough to be sexually desirable even if she’d kill you afterwards.

After Blue is one of those weird little movies that feels like everyone involved — including and especially the audience — is getting away with something. It’s a retro throwback, it’s unapologetically weird, it’s loaded with sex and nudity, and its ideas are consistently bold if occasionally opaque. I won’t pretend to have a full understanding of it, but I’m impressed that it exists and I have great respect for everyone who made it possible.

You won’t ever see anything quite like this one, and you may never get the chance to see it twice. So if you get the opportunity to see After Blue even once, jump on it.

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