Christa Théret as one of the many Conanns in “She Is Conann.” Photos courtesy of Altered Innocence Films

Space is weird.

No, not “space,” like the ineffable, limitless firmament that fuels humanity’s imagination with dreams of worlds unlimited and horrible, wonderful adventures untold. But Space, the Portland art gallery, event space and occasional movie theater, which delivers cinematic glories adventurous, horrible, beautiful and transcendent, often all in the same film.

Under programmer Greg Jamie (who took over for the outstanding Jon Courtney a few years ago), Space has become the unlikely hub of movie weirdness here in southern Maine. Over the past year or so, this column has covered Space offerings from Japanese art-house classics to thought-provoking documentaries on topics from the abortion rights underground to Russian LGBTQ+ art warriors to outstanding Maine-made indie fare.

And Space, under Jamie’s fearless curatorship, has set course for some new and uncharted cinematic waters for the month of February. On Feb. 21, it’s the premiere of “The Sweet East,” a slyly lacerating overview of American political and artistic entrenchment in the form of the “Alice in Wonderland”-style journey of a school-ditching teen girl through Americans’ most insular communities. And Feb. 23 will bring the Canadian madcap loopiness that is “Hundreds of Beavers,” an impossibly screwball adventure about a pratfall-prone fur trapper beset with, you guessed it, hordes of destructive, mischievous beavers (or people in huge beaver suits) bent on taking over the Great White North.

But I’m here today to talk to you about something even more bananas. Coming to Space this week (Friday, in fact), “She Is Conann” is a trippy, post-modern take on the Conan the Barbarian legend created by pulp author Robert E. Howard. You know, except that this time around Conan (or Conann, in the film’s spelling) is a time-hopping, immortal lesbian warrior who’s reincarnated forms seek vengeance, power, sex and enlightenment through the ages accompanied by a dog-faced demon in a leather jacket named Rainer. You know, that old story.

The latest from French experimental filmmaker Bertrand Mandico, 2023’s “She Is Conann” incorporates the director’s signature themes and techniques. Sexuality is fluid and volatile; images are violent, stark and striking; visual effects are practical, visceral and grotesque; and life is presented as a brutal battle for dominance, love and sex. I still haven’t seen Mandico’s lauded feature debut, “The Wild Boys” (about a gaggle of adolescent male criminals sent to a mysterious penal island where they swap genders), but did get to see 2021’s “After Blue,” about a young woman in a barren, barbaric alien wasteland who stumbles across a strange and powerful woman named Kate Bush buried in the sand and becomes obsessed with loving and killing her in equal measure.


Just so you know what you’re in for.

“She Is Conann” is Mandico continuing his exploration of female, queer and non-binary power in a horrible, beautiful world. Each Conann is seen at 10-year intervals, with the first hewing closest (I guess?) to the Conan tales, with 15-year-old Conann (Claire Duburcq) forced to watch her mother slaughtered by barbarian invader Sanja (Julia Riedler) before being enslaved (after being further forced to devour her mother’s body). From there, we see this Conann seek her bloody vengeance in a swirling, dripping underworld, led by the grotesquely canine Rainer, who glories in taking snapshots of Conann’s bloodiest deeds, encounters herself from a decade hence (Christa Théret), is murdered by her older self and then jumps ahead to the body of Black, Bronx-based lesbian Conann (Sandra Parfait), a stuntwoman living in amnesiac bliss with the very Sanja who’d killed her mom.

And then things get weird.

There is cannibalism, bisected bodies, chrome mingled with skin, windy pontificating about the nature of love, sex, time and war, and more pulsating, gooey, visceral torn and tortured flesh than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s beefy Conan could ever stomach. An older Conann evolves into a sadistic fascist genocide enthusiast (Agata Buzek’s styling recalls that of Charlotte Rampling in 1974’s scandalous Nazi-themed cult film “The Night Porter”), while an even older version (Nathalie Richard) has receded into a patron of the arts, inviting the world’s leading influencers to partake in an extended ritual of culinary self-negation that made even this old horror fanatic queasy.

Elina Löwensohn as Rainer in “She is Conann.”

Mandico is a grotesque stylist, his sets bubbling and oozing with unidentifiable fluids, his costuming a fetishistic mishmash of leather, spikes and flesh-tearing protuberances. The gore, when it comes (regularly and unflinchingly) is largely black-and-white, which should assist viewers in keeping their gorge under control, but doesn’t. The people (all women, or non-binary identifying) embodying this Conann are as beautiful as they are uncontrollably mad, pursuing an ever-evolving and elusive quest through the endless reaches of time. And then there’s Rainer, the guide-dog of hell, played by cult queen Elina Löwensohn. American viewers probably know her best as Jerry’s disappointed gymnast love on “Seinfeld” (I’m more about her role as the ambitiously reformed porn star in Hal Hartley’s “Amateur”), but nobody will recognize the ethereal actress here, the constantly tempting Rainer a dog-faced horror whose purposes are as murky as they are inevitably grotesque.

So what to make of “She Is Conann” in the end? A defiantly obscure treatise of womanhood, power and history? A reclamation of the bare-chested macho myth-making of pulp and gender stereotypes? The phantasmagorical freakout of a French provocateur who couches his kink in heady pretension and sexy spectacle? All of the above, all twisted into a nigh-indescribable mishmash of body horror in the vein of “Tetsuo: The Iron Man,” “Titane” and David Cronenberg’s “Crash” might come closest. But, thanks to Greg Jamie and Space, you’ve got the opportunity to make your own judgment. You know, if you dare.

“She Is Conann” screens at Space, 538 Congress St., Portland, at 7 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $10/$7 for Space members. Buy them at

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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