Thematically rich with a sumptuous blend of beauty and barbarism, the artfully crafted and wonderfully unique “She is Conann” is a treat.
French filmmaker Bertrand Mandico’s third feature She Is Conann (which premiered at Cannes 2023 and screened at the 2023 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival) is a quirky queer reimagining of the legend of Conan the Barbarian.
The movie features a rotating cast of actresses playing Conann – a gender-flipped version of Conan – at various times in her life, and Romanian-American star Elina Löwensohn steals the scene as Conann’s (mostly) loyal companion, a biped dog named Rainer.
Traveling through time, She Is Conann takes viewers on an epic journey.
Young Conann goes from being a prisoner of the Barbarians during the Sumerian era to the eventual queen of the Barbarians to a queer stuntwoman in 1990s New York City. The film also captures her descent into the deepest reaches of hell. It is mostly black and white, with sudden flashes of bright color used to emphasize the more dramatic scenes.
She Is Conann engages with color during particularly bloody battle sequences or during multiple gruesome scenes of gag-inducing cannibalism.
The film often feels like an immersive theater experience, which tracks as Mandico originally had the idea to make a version of Conan the Barbarian for the theater.
During the film, Conann must constantly go back in time to kill the version of herself that existed ten years ago.
For example, 25-year-old Conann must kill 15-year-old Conann; 35-year-old Conann will then kill 25-year-old Conann.
The idea of killing past versions of the self to make room for the newer versions to grow provides a much deeper meaning in She Is Conann. It’s not simply a retelling of an old tale – it becomes something else entirely: an exploration of how people change (for better or worse) throughout their lives.
Often, that change is painful, as Conann experiences over and over with her death. But it’s her fate to be a Barbarian, and as she says, “Killing one’s youth is the pinnacle of Barbarism.”
Dog-headed Rainer has an everchanging but near-constant relationship with Conann throughout the years (and personas).
Rainer is the one who inspires Conann to lean into her hidden Barbaric self, and Rainer is also the one who challenges Conann during every phase of her life.
The two have a fraught relationship, as Rainer acts as both an antagonist and protector of Conann at times during the film.
While discussing She Is Conann with Variety, Mandico noted, “[A]s Conann grows harder and becomes less and less human in her relations with others, Rainer becomes more human and ends up falling in love with Conann.”
Their fates are intertwined, even as they grow in opposite directions.
Rainer’s role is also to document Conann’s many lives.
Even back in the Sumerian era, Rainer always has a camera and is constantly clicking away, taking candid shots of pivotal moments in Conann’s life.
The importance of having someone by your side in life as a witness to everything you experience can provide priceless validation, and Rainer is an unflinching chronicler of Conann’s adventures, as bloody and inhumane as they may be.
With Löwensohn’s incredibly strong acting providing a foil to the many Conanns, She Is Conann portrays both true love and true Barbarism.
This movie has everything: gritty scenes of violence inspired by legends of Barbarians, queer love stories, explorations of what death really means, allusions to wartime Europe, and the idea of evil and corruption.