Writer: Natasha Kerman
Cast: Lauren Ashley Carter, Neimah Djourabchi, Sanam Erfani, Catherine Mary Stewart, Adam David Thompson, Lewis Black
Cert: 15 (tbc)
Running time: 84mins
What’s the story: In New Mexico, an alien being falls to earth and adopts the form of young New York porn actress, Julianna Fox. Taken in by an Iranian man and his sister, the alien begins assimilating with humankind. In New York, Julianna is having greater difficulty doing the same.
What’s the verdict: Natasha Kermani’s Imitation Girl is one 2017’s real discoveries. As exciting as fellow Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was when it wowed audiences in 2014.
A mumblecore take on The Man Who Fell to Earth and Under the Skin, Kermani’s movie is no pale imitation of either. Rather she uses the alien-dropped-from-the-sky plot for a compelling examination of love, sex, race, identity and basically the human condition.
Weighty ambitions then, but Kermani brings a sensitive touch in both script and direction, aided by Lauren Ashley Carter’s superb performance as petite pornstar Julianna Fox and the extra-terrestrial doppleganger.
Beyond an evocative opening in New Mexico, when a viscous slime oozes over a magazine cover of Fox, taking her form, and a metaphysical climax, Imitation Girl goes light on the sci-fi trappings.
Kermani’s movie is a psychological character study of the fragile, yet resilient Julianna, and her cosmic twin (billed in the credits simply as Imitation). At its core it’s an affecting tale of the outer space of public personae, and the troubled, inner space of the mind.
Porn, with its graphic reality disguising ersatz emotion, proves a canny metaphor. As does the subtle, but recurring visual motif of mirror images placed throughout the film. Plus, the coke that Julianna habitually toots to escape herself, courtesy of wastrel boyfriend Max (Thompson).
Against Julianna’s life of fake connections, Kermani tells a parallel story of Imitation’s experience living with Iranian brother and sister Saghi (Djourabchi) and Khahar (Erfani). Siblings who have also had to reinvent themselves in America after fleeing their homeland. Though tinged with melancholy, Imitation’s life may be what the intelligent, curious Julianna could have had if past choices had been different.
Indie queen Ashley, doe-eyed and adorable as the inquisitive Imitation and sad-faced and frustrated as her earthly counterpart, carries the film with a performance of intelligence and grace.
Add in a menacing cameo by legendary comedian Lewis Black and a music school audition as tense as any suspense set-piece and you have a film that surprises and thrills over its lean 84-minute running time.
Fittingly for a film about surface belying hidden truths, Imitation Girl’s ending is open to all kinds of passionate post-credits debate. Whatever conclusions are reached, there is no doubt that a major new filmmaking voice has arrived.