Ana Lily Amirpour’s latest film, after a five-year absence due to her venturing into the world of TV, will take audiences on a stylish, hipster ride throughout the grungy streets of New Orleans. Barring Last Night in Soho, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is, without a doubt, one of the wildest films of the Venice Film Festival thus far. Despite the manic goings-on here, Amirpour’s film is lurid, somewhat mellow, and full of energy.
The French Quarter, New Orleans. This is where Mona Lisa Lee (Jeon Jong-seo) has been held in a mental facility for over ten years. A series of events leads Mona to break out of her claustrophobic cell and step forth into the outside world. A call is put out to try and find Mona and return her to confinement due to them deeming her as a risk. Having been locked up for nearly all her life, her social interactions draw a lot of good, but also unwanted attention to herself. Along her journey, she is taken in by a dancer named Bonnie Bell (Kate Hudson). On realizing Mona’s strange talents, Bonnie decides to keep her always by her side.
At its core, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a story about an outsider, who just so happens to be extremely special. Bonnie’s actions represent how society takes advantage of those in need. And Craig Robinson’s cop showcases society’s fear of outsiders. The only decent, kind person is Bonnie’s rock-loving son (Evan Whitten) who takes a strong liking to Mona. These interactions are one of the reasons why Amirpour’s film works, as it hits a very familiar ground. Comparisons can be made to the X-Men’s mutants and how they are ousted for having special abilities which people fear. Here, it’s made very clear that Mona is just everyone else, but she can’t break free of those who try to restrain and use her.
Stylistically, Amirpour’s latest is a feverishly dynamic delight. This is all thanks to Pawel Pogorzelski’s ace cinematography which echoes the work of Wong Kar-wai’s go-to director of photography, Christopher Doyle. Especially, in terms of its lens choice. Almost every frame is shot using extremely wide lenses, barring a few scenes here and there. Its influence couldn’t be clearer, audience members could be forgiven for staying to look for Doyle’s name in the credits. Pogorzelski and Amirpour’s stylistic homage suits and aids the style of Mona and the Blood Moon’s wild, otherworldly story. It would be unforgivable to not mention the excellent use of light, which has been crafted to perfection.
Despite all these strong points, Amirpour’s outsider story begins as a dud. The opening scene, especially, is an example of the sometimes eye-rolling cliches at play. Perhaps, for those spectators warned about its absurdity, the opening will play better. Also, what accent is Kate Hudson doing? It’s certainly not a New Orleans accent, I even checked with a neighboring critic from New York, who confirmed. Even with all its creativity, Amirpour’s film can’t escape from its inherent cliches, the accent is just one exemplar. Nevertheless, despite a weak start and some shoddy accents, the film gets progressively better as the plot begins to churn along.
Jeon Jong-seo is the backbone of the film, she plays Mona with great purity and contrasting furiosity. Likewise, Craig Robinson plays the only somewhat sane character here. He is able to break up the craziness, calling out the absolutely absurd farce that is the film’s gimmick, Mona’s abilities. Aiding everything along Mona’s turbulent journey is a blaring electronic score. It can sometimes be too much as it blurts and cuts through the action, but when it settles down, the score becomes much more enticing and palatable.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a stylish, absurd mix of many genres. Part superhero film, part horror and manhunt thriller, it’s an odd mix that strangely works. Although it isn’t incredible, it does come across as unique and refreshing. Amirpour’s absurd mishmash of a film will leave a lasting impression on spectators.
This review is from the Venice Film Festival. There is no U.S. distribution at this time.