Conann ★★★½

The funny thing is, if you overlook the surrealistic experimental approach and the commentary on the nature of art, it's a completely credible exploration of Conan's development as a character. King Conan didn't want to die in bed either. Anyhow, since I'm not about to leave well enough alone, I'm going to ignore the fact that director Bertrand Mandico co-wrote the Incoherence Manifesto and see if I can't puzzle out some underlying intentions.

The key, or perhaps the blatant signpost, is Elina Löwensohn's Rainer. It's a great performance, by the by: a canine Tiresias with remarkable delicacy, considering the whole performance is delivered from under a prosthetic muzzle. Rainer is symbolically Rainer Warner Fassbinder. There are enough signifiers to make this very clear; the slouchy posture, the jacket, the constant photography, and most important the absolutely abusive approach they take towards Conann.

That's most visible in the segment with Conann at 35, set in the Bronx, when Rainer lies to Conann throughout. It's disturbing and evocative of the dog's namesake: begging, whining, saying anything to get back in Conann's graces.

She is Conann is constructed as a series of loops, with each Conann cannibalizing her younger self in order to fully come into her own. The movie is full of references and homage. Each generation of artist must consume the previous, and Mandico clearly doesn't think we should be shy about it. Admit the influence. Kill the old.

And then there's the final sequence, which really rips back the veil of pretension. Six artists have the option to be monsters, become rich, and we can only assume lose their edge. It's not presented as the correct choice.

The significant thing here is that Fassbinder was a monster, as well as a great director. In the movie, Rainer is a monster who drives Conann towards her best self, which is also her most barbaric self. In that final sequence, Conann has stepped away from barbarity, and that's further implied by the static nature of the oldest Conann in the frame sequence, sitting on her lonely throne.

So: Mandico needs art to be dangerous. Rainer acts as Conann's muse, continually pushing her to hurt herself to become the next better version of herself. Yet Rainer is not, at any point, a sympathetic character. It's a fascinatingly incoherent movie; at the very least, it's asking us to think about the artist as monster trope. Is it endorsing it? I dunno.

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