Review: She Is Conann


Epic stories of tragic heroes rising to great power or making arduous journeys have long fueled the action and fantasy genres. From Ancient Greek stories like The Odyssey to the emergence of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and more recently the many storylines within the world of Game of Thrones, it is clear that people are drawn to stories of high stakes and triumph over evil. But so many of these stories often reinforce patriarchal and heteronormative ideals of the Western world, leaving few female heroes (and even fewer queer ones) to root for.

That’s where She Is Conann – directed by experimental French director Bertrand Mandico – comes in. Filling a much-desired gap, giving audiences an explicitly queer and badass, sword-bearing woman as the titular hero, She is Conann looks to give a spin on the typical male-dominated fantasy genre.

She Is Conann - Official Trailer (2024) Elina Löwensohn, Christa Théret, Julia Riedler

She Is Conann
Director: Bertrand Mandico

Release Date: November 29, 2023 (France)
Rating: Unrated

She Is Conann resurrects the popular action/fantasy character Conan the Barbarian – popularized in the media throughout the 20th century. He is brutish in his appearance and is known as a skilled warrior, leading to his namesake. In some versions of the story (including the 80s film), Conan is enslaved in his adolescence before his rise into a warrior.

She Is Conann is more than a reboot of a character embedded into the fantasy genre: it is a reinvention. What starts as a gender-bending and queering of Conan (she becomes Conann and a lesbian) becomes a journey into the abyss of time. Life and death turn into a shedding of one’s skin. Each rendition of Conann’s life transforms her, bringing new questions of mortality as well as identity. And, similar to past examples of heroes or other protagonists on an epic journey, Conann is accompanied on her quest by a guide. Much like Dante’s poet guide Vergil in the Divine Comedy, the demon dog Rainer (Elina Löwensohn) escorts Conann through her many lives and deaths.

Rainer and a group of soldiers take photographs.

From Altered Innocence.

The film opens on Conann after her death, shot in dazzling black and white that invokes an ethereal fantasy. Blood and metal shimmer brightly despite their monochromatic tone. Two “doctors” pull Conann into the afterlife and Rainer is immediately there to greet her in this new world. Together, the companions journey through the abyss of the afterlife to meet Conann in her final form as some sort of ruler over the underworld, though this is a bit hazy as the story starts to unfold. 

We are thrown back in time to Conann at various points of her life. At 15 years old, Conann (Claire Duburcq) is enslaved by the warrior Sanja (Julia Riedler) and her band of fierce women fighters. At 25 (Christa Théret), she has become a powerful woman of her own and enters a romantic relationship with Sanja. At 35 (Sandra Parfait), Rainer erases Conann and Sanja’s memories, and the two lovers live together in the modern world. At 45 (Agata Buzek), Conann decides to enact a transgressive act of cannibalism as a way to end her own life and ensure her continued legacy. 

From Altered Innocence.

The result is a reflection of Conann’s life broken up into significant turning points. Her barbarity – her ability to enact violence on others and herself – is linked with her gender and her sexuality. Her body can produce and receive violence because she is a woman. This specific violence, culminating in the final act being the consumption of her body, is the biggest difference between Mandico’s vision of Conann versus the previous male renditions. Shots of gore are just as shocking as close-ups of two tongues fighting for dominance. Mandico’s strength lies in his ability to make the transgressive just as sensual as the desire expressed onscreen. Watching She Is Conann is exciting for feminist and queer audiences because of the autonomy Conann has over her body, as well as over her future and past selves.

As Conann and Rainer make their way through time, Conann’s future selves kill off her past selves. This allows her to “jump” through time while also tying into the sequential nature of the film. Rainer’s character often photographs the events unfolding around Conann. This documentation, similar to the way past poets and artists used their craft to document historical and mythological events, allows Rainer and Conann to reflect on Conann’s transformations. We never get to see these pictures, but their existence is proof enough of Conann’s life and the importance of her memories – especially after her death.

Young Conann is imprisoned.

From Altered Innocence.

While I enjoyed the fantastical aesthetic and queer elements of She Is Conann, I felt that the film focused more on the philosophy than the actual reality of Conann’s barbaric nature. The story of She Is Conann, like the comparisons I’ve been making to the Divine Comedy, is a reflection of morality and a “barbaric” or violent life. Although the film isn’t preaching to its audience, Mandico and Rainer have much to tell us about life and death. 

Continuing with the thought of Conann’s barbarity, there aren’t a lot of outside threats to prove Conann as a barbaric force (aside from her first act of violence against Sanja and the band of women warriors). I can’t help but wish I could have seen more of Conann in battle with her giant sword! At times I found the dialogue to be a little pretentious. However, I love Mandico’s style and his influence from other iconic queer filmmakers. For example, Rainer’s jacket is immediately evocative of Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising.

She Is Conann won’t be a film for everyone, but for audiences looking for a gross and sexy film of badass women and weird demons, this is the movie for you!




She Is Conann's hazy visuals and fantastical story entrance and dazzle, bringing queerness and fantasy together.

Sophia Schrock
Sophia (they/them) currently lives in Jersey City, NJ. They are passionate about queer cinema, horror, anything gothic, and their beloved cat Salem.