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{Overlook Film Festival} Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon

Mona Lisa And The Blood Moon

Ana Lily Amirpour announced at the Q and A after the opening night screening of The Overlook Film Festival that her movies did not fit into a genre. She was not worried about the labels that critics and fans may give her films (although she hinted that she wanted to work in action with the Cliffhanger reboot she is helming, which seems perfectly bonkers) but rather, she wanted to invent her own brand-her own genre the analililamirpour subgenre. Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon could be the perfect reflection of that new genre.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon opens with a nurse’s assistant trimming Mona Lee’s (Jeon Jong-seo) toenails. Mona Lee’s abuse from the assistant, the subsequent retaliation, and escape are perhaps the bloodiest scenes of the entire film and set Mona on her journey at breakneck speed. The movie’s first hour felt like a manic ride through different spaces of New Orleans (the film is unabashedly a love letter to the city featuring cast and crew from the area). The loving attention to food only helps reinforce that Amirpour understands the city and what makes it special. Between Bong-seo’s obsession with Cheese puffs and a diner where the food looks simultaneously disgusting and SO good, the snacks of an area can tell us as much about the story as the characters.

Mona befriends a small-time drug dealer (he would not call himself a drug dealer, he only deals drugs occasionally) named Fuzz (Ed Skrein). What looks like trouble, in the beginning, their relationship becomes so charming I could watch an entire film of Fuzz doting on Mona. While Fuzz may only have a few minutes of screen time, Skrein and the character’s evolution provide the very human drumbeat this film captures so well.

Eventually, Mona Lee runs into Bonnie (Kate Hudson), a stripper/mom/grifter who finds a way to use Mona Lee’s psychic ability to control others to her own advantage. Amirpour really shines in how she presents Bonnie and the club she works in. By inverting the traditional male gaze, we are rarely given a direct shot of the dancers performing. Rather the camera lingers on the leering men who look at best look like a gaggle of big bad wolves, or at worst, men who are so beat down by life they come to the club to feel powerful. More often than not, the camera focuses on Mona Lee’s face as she is both intrigued by the dancing and appalled by the responses it invokes. Of course, none of it would work if Kate Hudson were not so committed to the role. She a stripper, a grifter, but most importantly, a mom (even if she is wicked bad at it).

Mona Lisa And The Blood Moon

Jeon Jong-seo’s work as Mona allows all of the supporting roles to shine. Her innocence presents as a blank slate, or maybe more like a fun house mirror magnifying each character’s flaws and attributes so that each feels a bit like a character from a high fantasy novel. Even Officer Harold (Craig Robinson) is allowed to be more than the Inspector Javert that he might have been without the care of such a detailed director. Leave it to the kids to provide a gut punch, and that is exactly what Evan Whitten provides with his rebellious pre-teen Charlie. Charlie has a shitty mom, but he recognizes she is doing her best. He is a kid crafted from the anarchy of the city while also displaying the heart of New Orleans. The real conflict and denouement come from the realization that sometimes getting unstuck is so much harder than we imagined.

The pacing slows down a bit as Mona and Charlie head out into the wide world of NOLA. There are moments that tonally feel like a bit of a buddy cop film as Charlie teaches Mona how to dance, and she protects him from potential bullies. Amirpour mentioned that the adventure films of the 80s inspired her, and in these moments, you can really see that influence. This shift adds some much-needed levity as the two have a chemistry that makes us smile no matter what they are doing.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a charming piece of southern gothic storytelling that looks fantastic. The neon of the city seems perfectly placed and built for the movie (In fact, I would believe some of the sets were created for the film if I hadn’t walked by them the night before while exploring Bourbon Street). While the end of the film slows down a bit, it allows the audience to spend more time in Wonderland and less time with Alice.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a film that celebrates fairy tales, New Orleans, and forgetting everything you thought you knew. The film gets a wide release on September 5. Escape from your cell, house, or strip club and check it out or catch the other movies you should not miss from this year’s Overlook Film Festival.