Some time ago I attended a screening of “A girl walks home alone at night” in Paris, where I’m based. The film felt novel and contrarian enough to deserve attention. Its diminutive director, Ana Lily Amirpour, present at the screening, appeared to me like one of independent cinema’s new hopes, a counterpoint to the languid cinema of Sofia Coppola. The Q&A afterward was a little weird. An evidently squeamish Amirpour stood on stage, nearly half her head snugly fitted inside a baseball cap, looking like she had somewhere else to be and if she did not, the exercise was torture. To one audience member who asked her where she found inspiration from Amirpour replied, mildly irritated, I can’t tell you this, it’s in my head, you see what’s in my head when you watch my movies (I paraphrase).
Welcome to Ana Lily Amirpour’s WYSIWYG head.
“The Bad Batch,” Ms. Amirpour’s latest film, began a few days ago on Netflix after a June 2017 release. Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) gets released from jail into a no man’s land (film was shot in Southern California) in the middle of the desert. She roams the flats in search of food and shelter, comes into cannibals who remove parts of her limbs, we’re made privy to the goriest of details. Arlen eventually manages to writhe and roll herself out of harm’s way, gets rescued by a strange man pushing a cart (an unrecognizable Jim Carrey doing his best impression of a New York City crazy) and repairs to the community of Comfort, a dusty desert town inhabited by a ragtag lot of wild-eyed huns. Arlen, after losing a young friend, sets off to find her, negotiating her life and, eventually, sentiments, with a character named Miami Man (played by Jason Momoa) in the process.
Beyond its storyline, which leaves one in want, “Batch” presents like a vexing hodgepodge of disparate pop-culture elements that together don’t amount to much (when thinking of Amirpour’s cinema, a vat of subfusc pickle juice comes to mind). Like in Sofia Coppola’s earlier movies, Amirpour seems to have gone through a laundry list of personal likes and ticked them off, one by one: Going clubbing. Check. Burning Man. Check. Skater culture. Check. Drugs and raves, Check. Pimp culture. Check. Sexual references. Check. Cool. Awesome. Yea.
In the win column “Batch” has some of the best indie rock and dance music around on its soundtrack. And it’s hard not to be in awe with the amount of work that went in this film. Amirpour’s vision, the perseverance that went into making “Batch,” all are hard to fathom, Amirpour gets my admiration for imagining and scripting a story, turning it into a film, actually managing to deliver her film to theaters, a sisyphean task in a big-player, male-oriented industry. But her vision, what goes on in that famous head, hasn’t translated into cogent filmmaking yet.