The logline for Ana Lily Amirpour's latest film is simple and to the point: "A girl with unusual powers escapes from a mental asylum and tries to make it on her own in New Orleans." Yet within such a straightforward storyline, there lie endless possibilities and, with her usual eccentric flair, Amirpour doesn't miss a single chance to wow us and entertain.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is why films, to be viewed in cinemas, are made. It's the reason I go to a theatre and sit down among strangers -- to be blown away. Every sense, every part of me is left amazed and amused and while I really liked The Bad Batch and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Amirpour's two previous features, I loved Mona Lisa even more. Went in not knowing what I was in for, and came out singing, dancing and floating high on her fable -- on the inside, of course.
One night, on a full moon, a girl named Mona Lisa (played by Burning's Jun Jong Seo, in her first English language role and with divine understated-ness) awakens. She's been locked up for a decade in a mental institution, probably because she's been nearly catatonic during most of her life. Yet suddenly, her awakening brings with it special powers and Mona Lisa re-joins modern-day civilization in the wet swampy streets of New Orleans. While she wanders around with no shoes and wearing only a very fashionable straightjacket (think early Alexander McQueen) she begins to cross paths with the many strange inhabitants of the Big Easy. At first, it's a pill dealer named Fuzz (played to Vanilla Ice perfection by Ed Skrein) who buys Mona Lisa a bag of Cheetos -- ladies, steady yourselves -- and takes her back to his car. But while we expect one thing, in Amirpour's films men who could be bad guys are never that.
They instead are the bad boys we hate to love and Fuzz, no exception, is as close to a Prince Charming as we're going to get in modern Hollywood fare. His car has cool psychedelic lights, his stereo plays techno music and there is even a mini disco ball. After stealing his tie dye t-shirt, Mona Lisa runs into Bonnie Bell, who is embodied by Kate Hudson playing a tribute to every cinematic, pole-dancing stripper you've ever watched. Demi Moore, JLo, Salma Hayek and Elizabeth Berkley -- eat your hearts out because Bonnie Bell has a sense of humour and we like watching her for that alone! But we also love her groovy outfits, which truly rock. Bonnie Bell has a son, Charlie, played by newcomer Evan Whitten, a little boy who is nine going on 55.
Where things go from there, is anyone's guess and I won't ruin it for you by giving anything away. I'm just going to hint at Mona Lisa's special telepathic skills, Charlie's wisdom and Bonnie Bell's lack of it. And Fuzz, well, he's soft and cute like that and he says things like "I'm pretty sure we're meant to be soul mates," in a Louisiana drawl. But you'll have to watch the film in the cinemas, when Front Row Filmed Entertainment releases it in the Gulf.
During the fascinating press conference for Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, Kate Hudson said "we really do crazy things for the movies! Bonnie, there is a part of my soul that has a lot of Bonnie in it -- she's a fighter and a survivor and very much a warrior, even if it's in an unexpected type of shell, as we see in the story."
Hudson also called Amirpour "one of my favourite visionary directors," to which the filmmaker returned the compliment by saying "I've been a fan of Kate since forever, I've seen every movie she's ever been in and once I had the script it was like, I wanted her to be Bonnie because I knew she would bring a certain warmth to something that could be taken a different way -- and also a strength and realness."
Skrein talked about his character and explained "Fuzz is so far removed from me and my North East London roots but there were two points where he came to life -- the first one was when we found the street casting guy in New Orleans and Lily said 'I've found this guy and he has an awesome voice, I want you to hear his accent' and he recorded some Bukowski and that unlocked everything. The physicality of the accent, and then it all came alive at the costume fitting -- it was like a carnival, man! A psychedelic two hour trip of candy bracelets on ankles, chokers, amethyst crystal earrings and tattoos."
In case you were wondering, fashion plays a big part in Amirpour's vision and her videos for fashion brand Kenzo prove that. But I digress.
While New Orleans is definitely a character in the film, music plays a prominent role too. A mix of Italian techno, heavy metal and one cool remix of Italian song Estate di Bruno Martino, all curated by the film's music director Daniele Luppi, the selection made me desperately search for a soundtrack, which will need to be released along with the film. In fact, when Amirpour sent the script to her actors, she sent along a selection of music to be played with each scene read. That's just how she rolls.
When asked if they have ever felt like outsiders, a central theme in Mona Lisa, Skrein admitted "impostor syndrome is a part of us all, I've felt like a weirdo most of my life but I embrace it now -- that's the best part of me."
To which the Iranian-slash-British-slash-American Amirpour chimed in, "I've definitely always been an outsider, in every way, literally coming from somewhere else, looking different, speaking different, adapting, surviving and also not into the things that everybody was into." She continued but "cinema is a place where I feel very safe, as a whole, it feels like a safe, beautiful thing."