Imitation Girl


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Imitation Girl
"Carter is superb in the dual role."

If you're not in a position to fall to Earth and look like David Bowie, looking like a beautiful woman is the next best thing - or so the likes of Men In Black II and Under The Skin suggest. Imitation Girl owes more to the latter than the former, but like its subject, whose inky black form slides across a discarded porn magazine to steal the image of its cover star, it has a personality of its own.

There are parts of New Mexico where one might wander for days without seeing another person. Our heroine (Lauren Ashley Carter) is lucky; when she stumbles down from the rocks wearing only a skimpy negligee, she not only finds companionship pretty quickly, she finds people who treat her with kindness. Saghi (Neimah Djourabchi) and his sister Khahar (Sanam Erfani) are themselves immigrants, though from rather less distant Iran. Their instinct upon finding the confused and silent girl is to give her food and shelter - after all, this a part of the world where aliens of another kind sometimes wander across the border in desperate need of help. Saghi finds the girl beguiling, talks to her about the angels of the Qur'an, mysterious beings who come from the sky. "They're not real; they're only in poems," he says, but there's suddenly something poetic about his own circumstances. Khahar, meanwhile, finds delight in being able to help someone, and smiles to herself when she has to teach the girl how to use a toilet.

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Such is life as an imitation. But life as a real girl isn't easy. Julianna, the model whose appearance the stranger has stolen, is beginning to question where she has found herself in life, beginning to despair. Working in porn films, getting by with the help of cocaine, picking up women who turn around and try to tell her how to live; she's only in her twenties but the strain is showing. An encounter with her old piano teacher reminds her of the different direction that was once open to her, and might still be. It also labels her, first and foremost, not as a person in her own right but as somebody's daughter.

Director Natasha Kermani presents these stories in parallel, cutting back and forth between them. Julianna's urban world is all noise, colour and movement. The stranger's is calm, lyrical, made up of long sunbeams, hot baths and soft kisses. Although the stranger is learning what it means to be human, to be embodied in a clearly unfamiliar way, Julianna is just as much an imitator, performing femininity in different ways for different audiences. Does she, at her core, having something more in common with the stranger than just her appearance?

Carter is superb in the dual role, giving each character a distinct personality of her own with different body language, a different roster of expressions, yet subtly interrelating them, as though they were copies of the same record being played at different speeds. As the story develops, Kermani introduces hallucinatory fractal scenes that seem to link the two and position them as parts of some greater, mysterious whole. Meanwhile, the stranger and Saghi discuss the feeling of being cut off, unable to return.

Beautifully filmed, thoughtful and dreamlike, Imitation Girl is an impressive piece of work. What it has in common with Under The Skin suggests expansion on themes rather than anything else; at its core it is a true original.

Reviewed on: 27 Aug 2017
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A mysterious being appears in the desert and assumes the identity of the first person she sees – a magazine cover girl. Taken in by Iranian immigrants, she forms an understanding of her new surroundings, and comes to appreciate the beauty and the sadness of her new world.

Director: Natasha Kermani

Writer: Natasha Kermani

Starring: Lauren Ashley Carter, Lewis Black, Adam David Thompson, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Sanam Erfani

Year: 2017

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: US


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Under The Skin