A Practical Dreamer: Talking with Ana Lily Amirpour about 'The Bad Batch' in Venice


When the line-up for the 73rd Venice International Film Festival was announced, in late July, there was one film that immediately jumped off the page at me, and I knew coming into this edition of the oldest film festival in the world, I just had to watch it. I craved to watch it, in fact, as one craves a good meal or the perfect glass of wine.

In fact, "craving to watch it" is the perfect way to describe the desire that accompanies a film like The Bad Batch, which according to producer Eddy Moretti, was initially pitched by its filmmaker as "a cannibal falls in love with his next meal."

And right I was to be ravenous about watching Ana Lily Amirpour's follow up to her modern cult classic (yes, it's already a classic, in case you were wondering) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Watching The Bad Batch turned out to be so spectacular for me, so infinitely ahead of the majority of filmmakers' visions and critics' perception that I wouldn't be surprised if everyone else was still unraveling their brains, as I am two days later, to fully comprehend it. I won't use broad statements like Amirpour is a genius, because for such a young and talented filmmaker where would she go from there if I did -- but she comes awfully close.

During the press conference for The Bad Batch, surrounded by her producers and her sublime leading lady Suki Waterhouse, Amirpour dodged silly questions by the media, and even held her own when a German journalist asked her why she felt she needed to prove her worth by showing "so much violence". "What is a lot and how do you define a lot? Violence is in so many things... Do you want to ban violence from art and movies?" was Amirpour's response. It was obvious the filmmaker genuinely wanted to know what had provoked the outburst, and she explained to me during our one on one a bit later, it was because she tries to do "this Bruce Lee thing," to really listen to what the other person wants, when someone gets upset like that.

I myself questioned the reasons of the German woman, clearly a person who doesn't desire to watch violence or even gory things on screen, to go and view a film that is described as "a dystopian love story in a Texas wasteland and set in a community of cannibals" on IMDB. The same way I question the reason most people go to watch what they watch.

Personally, I go to a darkened spot in a cinema where the only light turns out to be the glow of the big screen to find magic, a feeling that can only be equated to sex, truly. It's undefinable, unrepeatable and when good, truly, truly seismic. And I was glad to discover that Amirpour turns to the idea of sex whenever she tries to find a way to explain the unexplainable. Like how she picked the songs that make up the outstanding soundtrack of The Bad Batch.

The film's excellent message of survival and finding a place where each of us can and does belong, despite the limitations the world tries to impose on us, was born at a time when Amirpour admitted she was "going through that kind of hell internally in all areas of my own life." And the Texas desert, this no-mans-land of lawlessness, misfits and hardship in the film, feels a lot like the loneliness and desolation I've felt myself walking on the edge of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.

In fact, The Bad Batch is so interesting, so needful of multiple viewings on my part, because there are so many references to real places, true life lessons and actual people. Like the character of The Hermit (played to silent perfection by the grandiose Jim Carrey) and The Dream, played, by who else other than Keanu Reeves -- both references to ideas and persons who are a part of our DNA.

I'll admit, I timorously sat down to speak with Ana Lily Amirpour, on The Biennale terrace, after having watched her in action at the press conference. I came fully prepared to be faced with a tough interview, someone who would challenge me and perhaps disagree with my vision of cinema as a tool to bring us humanly closer. What I did encounter instead is a pretty petite woman, with deep beautiful eyes and an infectious laugh I could spend endless afternoons talking to, and discussing anything from world views, to cinema, to fashion, sex and even quote Bruce Lee or Mohammad Ali. Yes, we could and we did, and following are the highlights of our magnificent talk.

The Bad Batch screens next in the Toronto International Film Festival.


I follow you on Twitter so I get to see there some of your creative process, but what was it like for you to write the film?

Ana Lily Amirpour: I started writing this one during editing Girl, writing is one of the best parts. It's like a personal kind of torture but I'm a writer and the best part is that you are getting yourself into this place, and you're just going there. And during the writing I just get it. I don't have to deal with people, like you do once it starts to go. I like the writing, it's therapeutic and I was going through severe savage changes in my personal life and had this image of this girl in the middle of the desert missing an arm and a leg -- chopped up. That's how I felt. Then I thought of that girl and thought, what is the fairy tale in that moment?

Yeah, because that's how we the audience survive the film, it's the fairy tale aspect. And why we walk out feeling like we just walked out of something magical.

Amirpour: Oh, you do?? That's cool (she laughs).

You balance so much in it, inside jokes, existential questions, world philosophies... How do you do that?

Amirpour: I'm glad that you think that. I don't know... I just feel like I'm trying to dance in a way really feeling the beat -- I'm dancing rather than being aware of myself dancing. When I'm storytelling and putting together the characters, the images it's all these things that feel like they are doing something and channeling something in the DNA of it. I don't really know the balance part. It's like dressing yourself, you choose a bunch of things that seem like they won't work and somehow it all comes together.

You talk about your creative process in terms of sex and music. Which is interesting to me.

Amirpour: Sex is the best one through. Sex we all do. Hopefully. And I feel there is something very very very appropriate about sex as the metaphor for creativity.

Especially for cinema, I think, because there are some things you just can't explain, like how I felt watching your film -- it would be easier to explain sex to someone than The Bad Batch.

Amirpour: "I came". Can't you just write that?! "I came, go to this movie and you will to. Maybe more than once. But at least once."

How did you get these amazing power stars? I mean The Dream! Oh my God, when Keanu Reeves came on, I giggled for five minutes that he was "The Dream"!

Amirpour: I'm so glad you said that. He is though. That's the thing, one of those really amazing moments where he actually is this thing.

Although you've dressed him as a Seventies porn star, kind of?

Amirpour: One of my dad's friends in England, I was four years old and I remember this guy. I loved him, and I would go and sit on his lap and he looked exactly like that. That's what The Dream is, this Persian guy in England.... He would be like, he always did this thing, it would f**k with me it was so overwhelming, he would say "Look outside, it's dark outside, you know what that means?" And I'd get overwhelmed with this feeling of terror because that meant that I had to go to sleep. And I was like, no it's not dark! And it was like an order, this law.... Unarguable logic.

How do you approach someone like Jim Carrey for the role of The Hermit?

Amirpour: It's the first film! I did the first film and Megan Ellison and Vice, Eddy [Moretti] and Danny [Gabai] they were like "we want to do what you want to do next!" Those were the guys and they were with me and were like The Bad Batch. Lets do this. Meaning, you want to bet on the pony, let the pony run. Not that many people, especially in America financing films are going to go to bat for a film like this, that's some kind of weirdo shit!

And you're a woman filmmaker, that's got to make the stakes even higher?

Amirpour: I never think about that. I just don't find categorization useful to me in any way, at any point in my existence. I think it's as arbitrary as if you were to talk about left-handed people. It's not the sum of anything and I also don't know what other women think. I do a lot of depraved, strange twisted things that might be chauvinistic, I don't know...

That's what probably makes you so outside the box, because to you the box doesn't even exist!

Amirpour: Yeah, what is the box?!

We think about it at times and it stops us.

Amirpour: It does stop you! That's what Bruce Lee said. If there is one thing that sometimes when I get worried, or I'm afraid, or nervous or there is a challenge or an obstacle, I always read Striking Thoughts a really awesome collection of his philosophies and things, because he studied philosophy at Berkeley and he's a brilliant thinker. I think the reason he was able to channel it physically in such a way, all the things that he does is because he was constantly moving and looking and trying to be present and know himself and express himself honestly. That's one of the things that he says.

So when those guys became involved, Megan at Annapurna and Eddy at Vice I was like here is a script and I wanted these actors. For most of them I knew who I wanted. For Arlen I thought there is really no young actress in that age that excites me. I saw lots of people and some of them were well-known people... Ten years ago, I feel like there were actresses that were exciting, and now nobody excites me. Were is Marisa Tomei, Cameron Diaz, Uma Thurman, Julia Roberts? They all looked different and had really distinct personalities, now there is Jennifer Lawrence, she's great. But I don't know... I think Suki is beautiful and she's so many things.

Do you believe in cinema as a way for us to connect?

Amirpour: I feel like I make films to make friends. Because I think friendship is a unicorn. It's really rare, and even if you just have one meaningful interaction, like we are talking now, and maybe we see each other in a year somewhere else, it's more meaningful than an ongoing routine of pleasantries of "Hey, how are you doing?" We're talking about love and life and what it means to be here on this earth, it's like getting to breathe for a second and be like, f**k this it's weird. We are so weird and f**ked up, we are all missing shit and trying to hobble around. So it's nice, it's a relief, even if it just happens for a second.

Do you think "violence begets violence", like Pope Francis says and we were all reminded by that woman in the front row at the press conference?

Amirpour: It's interesting, because when someone gets upset like that, I try to do this thing... I feel this body reaction when someone is getting upset and I think "how will I react right now" and the Bruce Lee thing is to really listen. You know when someone is mad and they just want to say they're mad? And maybe she just needed to be mad. I could just give her a reason, to get up, she's mad and she just needs to be mad. It's true that the chaos of the world is vast and unknowable and we think that we can explain it, or understand it or predict it, but we can't and we never have and we never will. And really the only job is to try and understand yourself. And that's hard and most people are really lazy and don't try to do it! I think that's the thing that starts all of it. And maybe she is a really peaceful and benevolent person, and she's frustrated by the chaos of the world...

And then the other one [chimed in] with the Pope quote. We can put that on the DVD cover: "The Pope said NO!"

All images courtesy of La Biennale, used with permission.