In the back of my mind, I’ve been saving a couple slots on my personal Best of 2022 list for two titles that never screened theatrically in New Orleans: Amanda Kramer’s Please Baby Please and Bertrand Mandico’s After Blue (Dirty Paradise). Having now rented both films for an especially lurid double feature, it turns out those reserved parking spots were totally justified. Both films hammered the exact personal pleasure centers I’m always looking to hit when seeking out new releases, exactly as expected. What I didn’t expect was that they would be so sympatico in their dreamlike deconstructions of gender, nor that they would be thematic mirror opposites of their respective directors’ previous works. I was introduced to Kramer through her apocalyptic meditation on the vicious, combative impulses of femininity in Ladyworld; I was introduced to Mandico through his wet nightmare vision of the vicious, combative impulses of masculinity in The Wild Boys. With their latest features, they’ve swapped topics (i.e., swapped genders), which makes After Blue & Please Baby Please a rewarding, fascinating double feature beyond their momentary value as last-minute best-of-the-year contenders.
In Ladyworld, Amanda Kramer immerses her audience in a never-ending Buñuelian house party where a group of young women eternally, ritualistically tear each other apart in the darkest corners of feminine bloodlust. In Please Baby Please, she reflects on the performative brutality of masculinity instead, abstracting & eroticizing the violence of traditional machismo. After a seemingly cis-hetero 1950s couple falls in lust with a gang of leather-clad ruffians (the wife out of gender envy, the husband out of closeted homosexuality), they separately explore their own relationships with masculinity as a social power & as a fetish aesthetic. As the couple unravels & retangles, Kramer ponders the question “What is a man, anyway?” through lofty academic discussions of how masculinity is socially engineered and through kinky fetishization of 1950s kitsch. Andrea Riseborough gives the performance of the year as the beatnik housewife turned Tom of Finland brute, approximating what it would be like if an especially rabid Jerri Blank had a Marlon Brando drag-king impersonation act. Harry Meulling’s crisis of masculinity is much more internal & philosophical, interrupting every friend group conversation with off-topic questions about why he must perform a gender at all, much less one arbitrarily assigned at birth. The film is overflowing with queer menace, artifice, and excellence, all achieved on a community theatre budget.
Bertrand Mandico’s The Wild Boys is my favorite film released in my lifetime, a complete gender meltdown that erodes all of the traditional characteristics & boundaries of masculinity in its titular group of nihilist ruffians but does not reform their vicious misbehavior when they emerge as women on the other end. Mandico’s second feature is just as gorgeous, grotesque, and wonderfully genderfucked as that debut, but goddamn that’s a tough act to follow. After Blue (Dirty Paradise) starts with feminine violence as its thematic anchor, dreaming of a far-out lesbian orgy planet that cowers in fear of a demonic, almighty serial killer named Kate Bush. As a disgraced hairdresser and her horndog daughter hunt down the elusive Kate Bush in the alien wilderness and fall in lust with other bizarre women they meet along the way, After Blue proves to be just as visually & thematically daring as The Wild Boys, just on the opposite end of the gender spectrum. The hallmarks of its sci-fi acid Western subgenre weighs heavily on its momentum & pacing, but it also constantly fills the frame with the most exciting, glitter-slathered nightmare imagery you’re likely to see this year. It plays like someone fed “James Bidgood’s Dune movie” into one of those AI art generators, and the results are intoxicating, even if a little exhausting.
Anyone who has already tasted “the rotten fruit of [Mandico’s] imagination” knows what to expect from After Blue, but that’s more of a sign of his out-the-gate fervor as a fully formed auteur than a sign that he’s repeating himself. By contrast, Kramer’s ideas & imagery appear to vary more from film to film, aiming for a fluorescent-trash version of John Waters’s aesthetic in Please Baby Please that I don’t believe was present in her previous work. As a pair, they’re among the most exciting artists currently working in the medium of queer filmmaking, not least of all because of their respective indulgences in over-the-top visual style and their shared philosophical hostility towards rigid gender boundaries. I have no idea where their careers are going (especially Kramer’s), but I’m confident in saying they’re already making some of the best movies out there on the new release calendar, and it’s a shame these two titles aren’t being published on more critics’ Best of the Year lists.