A Review of Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon by Ana Lily Amirpour

Kate Hudson and Jeon Jong-seo in Ana Lily Amirpour's Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon.

Kate Hudson and Jeon Jong-seo in Ana Lily Amirpours Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon.
photo: Saban Movies

Movies so often try to up the ante on their action and chase scenes – seriously, is every action hero studying parkour now? — so it’s refreshingly amusing when Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon Deliberately lowers them with one of the slowest car chases in the world. Craig Robinson, who plays a cop with an injured leg and a single crutch, chases Kate Hudson, who plays a stripper in heels, down a New Orleans street at night. Both can barely walk, but no one in this party town pays much attention to the officer’s pleas to stop their suspect.

The ultimate target of the chase is the woman accompanying Hudson, a mental institution escapee named Mona Lisa Lee (Jeon Jong-seo, combustion). She is a childhood refugee from North Korea, an intriguing plot point that this film does not explore further. Growing up mostly in a Louisiana facility described by one police officer as a “home for mentally insane youth,” Mona decided that night it was time to leave. Since she has the power to mentally control the movements of anyone who approaches her, it’s a fairly easy task.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is the latest film from director Ana Lily Amirpour, and it’s tempting to name it A girl walks home alone from a psychiatric ward at night. In keeping with Amirpour’s style, it is the story of a special woman as she navigates a peril-strewn lower-class landscape. It’s a bit like a John Cassavetes or Harmony Korine movie, which happens to have Stephen King’s Carrie as one of the characters and lots of synthesizers in the soundtrack.

At first, Mona seems in danger of falling prey to the quiet Asian trope, as – like many Amirpour characters – she’s not exactly talkative. Luckily, it doesn’t take long for her to start speaking and even screaming, although she prefers to let her actions do the talking. She saves Hudson’s Bonnie from a beating in a parking lot and bonds with the first person she doesn’t harshly judge. In fact, however, Bonnie judges her more subtly… as a potential meal menu. When she sees Mona’s powers, she promptly takes her to the strip club and various ATMs to squeeze cash out of people’s hands. Even in a mostly debit-card-centric society, New Orleans’ seedy side feels like a place at night where people need real cash and therefore still use ATMs, albeit with bad advice.

Bonnie is a single mother and her prepubescent son Charlie (Evan Whitten), initially reluctant to have company, becomes a real friend of Mona’s. Believing his mother sees him as a burden, he longs to get away, and it’s thanks to this film’s delightfully warped moral compass that he actually convinces viewers to care for this underage child with irresponsible and violent telekinesis help. Amirpour dedicates the film to the memory of her producer Sina Sayyah, whom she describes as her Mona Lisa’s Charlie, suggesting that there may be some autobiographical elements in the dynamic, even though Sayyah was far from a child.

However, the overall plot is less important than the portrait of the outskirts at night and the people who live on the outskirts. Shot on location in Louisiana, it’s a vibrant setting populated by characters who really belong, rather than actors who are cast to perfection. Ed Skrein is hardly recognizable as a face-tattooed DJ named Fuzz, who seems almost stereotypically menacing until he gradually reveals more layers. There’s a lot of deception in the game – while escaping, Mona passes some spooky looking metalheads drinking beer. Violence seems imminent, but not only do they give her a beer, they also give her shoes. Anti-establishment guys look out for each other on these streets; It’s the normal-seeming people, like the frat boy clients on The Panty Drop, who might actually commit violence against a woman.

Hudson feels impressive, like she belongs here, buried under a Brooklyn-esque accent and tattoos cataloging a list of crossed-out boyfriend names. She never comes across as an A-lister slumber, nor does she play her role as a single mom for over-compassion. She’s moved on from being infected by her son’s precocious psychiatric rhetoric — “You’re toxic!” he yells at her at one point, over her stripper fashion choices. But she might not care too much about proving that she is Not poisonous. While the cop is very slowly on the heels of Mona and Bonnie, Robinson portrays an average Joe on the police force, a rarity on the big screen. He is neither bastard nor hero; just a guy who likes chinese food and wants to do his job.

MONA LISA AND THE BLOOD MOON | Official Trailer | Outstanding films

Amirpour shows Mona’s powers in a simple way, showing that the best special effects can simply be the performers themselves. The activation of her powers is indicated by a simple dolly counter-zoom, that effect where the depth of field changes and the background behind the character appears to rush forward. She then creates the effect by having the actors mirror each other, as if one character were being manipulated by the other. It’s a compelling, inexpensive illusion that doesn’t violate the neorealist boundary tone, while injecting a tiny bit of magical realism.

Did Mona get her abilities from a top-secret North Korean prison experiment? Who knows? She winces a bit when she sees Donald Trump meeting Kim Jong-un on TV, but Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a film that only tells you what the characters themselves would do – and the title character protects their secrets. That leaves layers intentionally unexplored by Amirpour’s seemingly superficial narrative, or perhaps they are simply hidden behind the simplicity of the characters’ behavior and activities. It’s less a tale of the supernatural than a whole night Party on the wrong side of town, with hints of danger, interesting strangers, and an overall cool vibe that lasts even the morning after.

https://www.avclub.com/mona-lisa-blood-moon-review-ana-lily-amirpour-1849574398 A Review of Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon by Ana Lily Amirpour

Andrew Schnitker

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