We analyze two titles in competition: ‘Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon’, a new vision of fantasy cinema (superheroes, in this case) by the always unexpected Amirpour, and ‘The Lost Daughter’, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut.
Green capital letters on a black background, dark melodic music (by the Italian Daniele Luppi), on the screen appears the title of the film: Mona Lisa and The Blood Moon to, immediately afterwards, portray a large white moon -the bloody one will take time to appear- illuminated from the sky by a psychiatric hospital in New Orleans. This is how the new film by British director Ana Lily Amirpour begins, one of the most praised directors of the new fantastic cinema since he gave us in 2014 A Girl Comes Home Alone at Night, a film of Suigéneris music-loving vampires in Iran with a certain modern western eroticism (said like that it sounds strange but it is one of the most exciting reformulations of vampire cinema of what century). With his last film to date, Carnal Love (2016), won the Special Jury Prize in Venice, festival to which he returns for the third time with Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, a cajun tale that moves its hips down Bourbon Street swapping New Orleans jazz for minimal dubstep which, in its daring way (and as it already happened in his vampire film) gives an interesting aesthetic twist to both the films of prisoners on the run and those of worldly people with superpowers. To give a first example that helps to explain me better: How to make a punk girl fall in love (2017) by John Cameron Mitchell made a gesture similar to that of Amirpour but applied to the cinema of extraterrestrial contacts.
Korean actress Jeon Jong-seo – star of Lee Chang-dong’s masterful Burning (2018) – gives life to Mona Lisa, a young woman trapped in a psychiatric hospital, in a padded cell and with a straitjacket, who has not said for twelve years single word. Either because of the Moon, which is getting bloody, or because the body and mind have said enough, she decides that she is tired of being locked up and escapes from it without having any idea of what awaits her in the world. Exterior. She has no memories or knowledge whatsoever but she does have the strange ability to make people do what she wants, a kind of hypnotic-telekinesis that makes her take control of anyone, being fully aware that she has lost control of her body (causing a whole series of hilarious sequences). But these weird super powers are like the dubstep that punctuates the action relentlessly: minimal; a fantastic addition to a film that really speaks to us is the empathy that the fugitive will awaken through the motley lumpen of the Louisiana capital: a stripper from a seedy local (Kate Hudson) and her son who is passionate about drawing, a badass drug dealer (whom Armipour gets to fry eggs), a good-natured policeman but tenacious in his pursuit, and so on.
The feminist gaze -as in all his films- Amirpour contrasts two antithetical women: the fugitive is tremendously innocent and only rebels against those who want to stop or harm her, while the stripper is necessarily selfish after a life that is presumed full of beatings (metaphorical and physical). In front of them, a world of men who are sometimes compassionate – the drug dealer, the club security – sometimes disgusting – the “herd” of drunks who appear at the club. Emotional movie -Gorgeous relationship between the boy and Mona Lisa-, funny and with its thriller point -the climax is perfectly resolved-, I think Sitges will have a great time when this film opens its next edition.
Also screened in official competition we could see the actress’s directorial debut Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Lost Daughter. With a trio of gorgeous lead actresses – Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Jessie Buckley (my favorite) – Gyllenhaal talks to us through a summer vacation on a Greek island of a grown woman (Colman), facing a very badass local family , followed by topics of different interest but that never materializes in anything solid. On The Lost Daughter They talk about failed motherhood, impossible sons (daughters), infidelity and the desire to flee from marriage, autumn romance when all is lost, the violence of the native-in-law -the shadow of Straw Dogs (1971) is elongated-, of how the past returns to devour you … many things, probably too many, that do not quite bear fruit as they should. As for the style, Gyllenhaal goes to great lengths to find itTurning around and around that image – short shot, fat grain, fleeting image – that wants to be poetic without appearing poetic and that ends up knocking down due to exhaustion. Come on, it doesn’t quite work. And that the issue of bad parents seems super interesting to me, that it seems that as soon as you have children you must become a model of paternal behavior and, in reality, you are still yourself, only with many more responsibilities (and, in my case, with two wonderful children).