January 29th 2023

This evening, if you find yourself curious about the cosmic adventures of giant blue humanoid aliens and the technofascist menace threatening their prelapsarian society, you can scratch that particular itch while still avoiding James Cameron’s profligacy by attending the French Institute’s screening of animator René Laloux’s final feature, Gandahar (1987). Originally released stateside in a rescripted and truncated form courtesy of a certain scissor-handed Hollywood mega-creep, Laloux’s cut (original score and sex scene intact!) is now receiving its U.S. premiere as part of the sixth edition of FIAF’s Animation First Festival. Compared to its state-of-the-art cousin now dominating multiplexes, this hand-drawn fable makes a similar case against scientific hubris and authoritarianism in less than half the run time.

After a mysterious army of robots descends on the peaceful denizens of Gandahar, the ruling Female Council taps Sylvain to investigate the invasion. He travels across trippy, erogenous landscapes with the help of The Transformed, an outcast society created and abandoned by the Gandahari during perfection-seeking genetic experiments. At the center of the plot against Gandahar is another failed experiment, a metastasizing brain that looks for all the world like a pulsating glans. Forestalling the genocide of his people takes Sylvain across oceans and millennia, enlarging the tale to biblical dimensions.

Sci-fi and fantasy that reconfigure and displace anatomical forms typically spring from deep neuroses about sexuality, as in Alien (1979) and Cronenbergian body horror, but Gandahar’s art design maintains an innocent randiness at peace with natural forms. Laloux and production designer Caza populate the forests of Gandahar with breast-feeding armadillos and yonic shrubbery, as well as unmistakably fallopian passageways our hero must traverse in his quest. The overall effect is not of sketches in the margins of a horny tween’s composition book, even if the film isn’t exactly uninterested in sex, as evidenced by the perpetually topless female Gandaharians. Instead, the world was lovingly conceived by artists enthralled by the uncanniness of textbook illustrations. The veiny, bulbous flora and fauna of Gandahar stand harmoniously in their weirdness against the cold metal geometry of the planet’s invaders, in a bald metaphor perfectly suited to psychedelic space opera.

Gandahar screens this evening, January 29, at the French Institute Alliance Française as part of the Animation First Festival. It will be the U.S. premiere of the newly restored Director’s Cut.