Director: Neil Jordan
Production: A Palace Production for Handmade Films; Technicolor; running time: 104 minutes; length: 9,368 feet. Released 1986.
Executive producers: George Harrison, Denis O'Brien; producers: Stephen Woolley, Patrick Cassavetti; screenplay: Neil Jordan, David Leland; photography: Roger Pratt; camera operator: Mike Roberts; editor: Lesley Walker; sound editors: Jonathan Bates, Chris Kelly; sound recordists: David John, Dave Hunt; sound re-recordists: Paul Carr, Brian Paxton, Andy Jackson; production designer: Jamie Leonard; art director: Gemma Jackson; costume designer: Louise Frogley; music: Michael Kamen.
Cast: Bob Hoskins (George); Cathy Tyson (Simone); Michael Caine (Mortwell); Robbie Coltrane (Thomas); Clarke Peters (Anderson); Kate Hardie (Kathy); Zoe Nathensen (Jeannie); Sammi Davis (May); Rod Bedall (Terry); Joe Brown (Dudley); Pauline Melville (George's Wife); Hossein Karimbeik (Raschid); John Darling (Hotel Security); Bryan Coleman (Gentleman in Mirror Room); Robert Dorning (Hotel Bedroom Man); Raad Raawi (Arab Servant); David Halliwell (Tim Devlin); Stephen Persaud (Black Youth in Street); Maggie O'Neill (Girl in Paradise Club); Gary Cady (Hotel Waiter); Donna Cannon (Young Prostitute); Perry Fenwick (Pimp); Dawn Archibald (Wig Girl in Club); Richard Strange (Porn Shop Man); Alan Talbot (Bath House Attendant); Geoffrey Larder (Hotel Clerk); Helen Martin (Peep Show Girl); Kenny Baker, Jack Purvis, Bill Moore (Brighton Buskers).
Awards: Palme d'Or, Cannes Festival, 1986; BAFTA Award for Best Actor (Hoskins) 1986.
Jordan, Neil, and David Leland, Mona Lisa, London, 1986.
Tummolini, Stefano, and Chiara Calpini, Neil Jordan, Rome, 1996.
Rogers, Lori, Feminine Nation: Performance, Gender, and Resistance in the Works of John McGahern and Neil Jordan, Lanham, 1998.
Stills (London), December 1985-January 1986.
Film Directions (Belfast), vol. 8, no. 31, 1986.
Variety (New York), 14 May 1986.
Hollywood Reporter, 19 June 1986.
City Limits (London), 28 August-4 September 1986.
Codelli, Lorenzo, in Positif (Paris), September 1986.
Combs, Richard, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), September 1986.
Pym, John, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1986.
Anderson P., in Films in Review (New York), October 1986.
Roddick, Nick, in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), January 1987.
Barra, Allen, "Here Comes Mr. Jordan: Irish Literary Man Neil Jordan Made a Splash with Mona Lisa: Now He Arrives in Hollywood with We're No Angels: Will They Let Him Stay?" in American Film, vol. 15, no. 4, January 1990.
Glicksman, Marlaine, "Irish Eyes: Interview with Irish Motion Picture Director Neil Jordan," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 26, no. 1, January-February 1990.
"Jordan, Neil," in Current Biography, vol. 54, no. 8, August 1993.
James, Joy, "Black Femmes Fatales and Sexual Abuse in Progressive 'White' Cinema: Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa and The Crying Game," in Camera Obscura (Bloomington), no. 36, September 1995.
Schruers, Fred, "Neil Jordan: Film Director," in Rolling Stone, no. 747, 14 November 1996.
"Borderline Case: Neil Jordan Has Gone Crazy for Things Irrational, But There Is a Power of Method in His Madness," in TimeInternational, vol. 150, no. 26, 23 February 1998.
* * *
Following his characteristically ebullient and pugnacious portrayal of East End gang boss Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday Bob Hoskins plunges back again into the London underworld in this story of George, a small-time gangster released from a seven-year stretch for someone else's crime only to find his old world utterly changed. Eventually his former boss gives him a menial job chauffeuring Simone, a young, black, and very exclusive prostitute. George falls in love with her, but she is concerned only with finding her friend Cathy, a heroin-addicted fellow prostitute who has mysteriously disappeared. She enlists George's help and eventually they track her down. However, George then discovers, much to his chagrin, that the two women are in fact lovers.
Mona Lisa is at its best in the passages in which it comes across as a contemporary British film noir, a kind of latterday Night and the City. Particularly impressive in this respect are the scenes in the Kings Cross red-light district (somewhat cleaned up since the film's production) which have a genuinely infernal, Taxi Driver-ish feel about them, the plush hotel foyers which conceal less salubrious goings-on behind their luxurious facades, Michael Caine's briefly glimpsed but convincingly nasty gangster Mortwell (not unlike John Osborne's crime boss in Get Carter), the final bloodbath in Brighton, and George's seemingly endless traipse through the strip joints, peep shows, and hostess clubs of Soho. Certainly the view of human relationships which emerges from this urban nightmare is as black as anything produced by Hollywood in the 1940s: the central theme emerges clearly as the illusory nature of romantic love and, more specifically, the male habit of projecting hopelessly idealized, unrealistic images onto women to whom they are attracted. Director Neil Jordan describes it as an "anti-erotic movie" which deals with "misplaced passions and emotional devastation," whilst writer David Leland admitted that "what emerged for me working on this film is the extraordinary capacity human beings seem to have to lead double lives, and it makes me wonder if any of us can ever know who the hell it is we're living with. It must involve an incredible amount of lying to one's partner, to the other people one's close to—and to oneself." Undoubtedly the film's thoroughly unromantic view of sexual relationships of any kind owes something to the fact that Leland's previous script—Personal Services—also revolved around the world of prostitution.
On the other hand, Mona Lisa, as an urban thriller, lacks a certain necessary élan. The problem here (as in so much British cinema) is a tendency towards literaryness, towards spelling things out and dotting the "i's" and crossing the "t's" as opposed to embedding the themes as it were "invisibly" in the narrative. In other words what it finally lacks is the characteristic narrative economy of the Hollywood model—as the self-reflexively inserted clip from They Live by Night rather unfortunately emphasises. (That such a cultural transition is in fact possible is proved by the existence of the aforementioned Get Carter; typically, however, the best British thriller of recent times— Philip Saville's Gangsters—was made for television and now lies unseen, gathering dust in the BBC vaults.) The problem is compounded by allowing George to become something of a comic, lovable misfit—for example, in the scene (reprised from The Long Good Friday) in which he returns to his neighbourhood after his years inside to find it considerably changed, his rather sentimentalized relationship with his old friend Thomas, and his inability to distinguish between smart and merely flashy clothes. As Richard Combs concludes in Monthly Film Bulletin, "in this respect, and for all the film's toughness and violence, we are not very far from the kind of British cinema—sort of Ealing-Forsyth—which is always inclined to bury everything in eccentricity and whimsy."
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