Ana Lily Amirpour made a brilliant COVID-19 short for Netflix. It's unlike anything she's ever done
So far, writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour's filmography includes an Iranian-vampire-Spaghetti Western (2014's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) and in her words, a "post-apocalyptic, desert-set cannibal love story" (2017's The Bad Batch). But her new short film Ride It Out is something else altogether: It follows Amirpour herself, simply riding her bike around her Hollywood neighborhood. Quite the anomaly — but then, we're living in quite the anomalous time.
"It's fundamentally different from the filmmaking I do, which is very much fiction-based," Amirpour says of the short. "Because there's nothing I can write, in the sense of fiction, that could be more compelling than the reality that we find ourselves in, in this moment."
Ride It Out will arrive on Netflix on Tuesday as part of Homemade, a new collection of short films created in self-isolation. The 17 shorts range from eerie tone poems to whimsical romances (between the Queen and the Pope, no less), with directors ranging from Hollywood A-listers (Kristen Stewart, Maggie Gyllenhaal) to internationally acclaimed auteurs, including Paolo Sorrentino, Nadine Labaki, and Sebastián Lelio.
All the shorts contend with the pandemic in one way or another, most focusing on the interior spaces to which we've all been largely confined for months now. But when Jackie director Pablo Larraín, who spearheaded the project, approached Amirpour about contributing a film, she quickly seized upon the idea of documenting the effect COVID-19 has had on the outside world.
"It's a very difficult question to answer, how to make a film to express and process this moment, [which is] such a difficult moment to even understand or articulate,"Amirpour tells EW. "I just really felt the most exciting thing for me was to go and look at Los Angeles, this city that's been familiar to me in a certain way, and then had suddenly just completely shifted into this other thing. I just knew that we were going to be looking at something that would never be this way again, and has never been this way before."
Production was by necessity a minimalist affair, but Amirpour brought a few key collaborators on board. Those included drone operator Armen Aghaeian, who helped capture some of the film's most striking compositions, and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski, known for his work on Ari Aster's Hereditary and Midsommar, and who shot Amirpour's upcoming film Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon.
"I had a GoPro that I would attach to my bike, [Aghaeian] had his drone, and then Pawel had a camera on a gimbal, and he was also on a bike," Amirpour recalls. Over a weekend in May, the three-person team roamed the area around the director's Hollywood home, finding shots as they went.
"Each location spoke to me in a certain way, and then I filmed it depending on how it was feeling in the moment," Amirpour says. "I knew the streets I wanted to look at. Obviously, Hollywood Boulevard is iconic, and you'd never see it in such a state of emptiness; it's like a post-apocalyptic film. But some of those streets are just dear to me. They're my neighborhood, and they're so empty and eerie and beautiful in a way. We would just get there and then work our way inwards and out, from being all the way down with the rider on the bike, and then up to the sky."
Amirpour credits editor Taylor Levy, another Mona Lisa collaborator, with helping give the short structure. ("We were working together very closely for the last six months, so I think that helped, because we were very much in each other's frequencies mentally," she says.) But the finishing touch was the ethereal narration by Cate Blanchett, who recalls her opening voice-over from The Lord of the Rings as she waxes poetic on the pandemic's physical and psychological impact. The Oscar-winning actress, who's self-isolating in the U.K., recorded the narration on her iPhone in her closet from a script written by Amirpour.
"I just knew that it was gonna come down to having a narrator who had that force, that gravitas that would make you not just listen, but really take in what you're hearing," the filmmaker says, citing Werner Herzog's voice-over work as an influence. "And I knew I wanted it to be a woman, because something about the piece feels very feminine, and gentle. Almost like you're being read a children's book."
Deciding Blanchett fit the bill, Amirpour got in touch with the actress, who, as it happens, is a fan of her work. Blanchett did two takes, one with more of a "National Geographic tone," as Amirpour puts it, "and then one where she was a little more playful, like she was reading a children's story."
As for the narration's content, Amirpour used it as an opportunity to reflect on her thoughts and feelings about finding meaning in this bizarre and often frightening time in human history. "I was putting down thoughts about what [the short film] really was, and I think it was asking me to find a perspective on this moment," she explains. "So I really dug into that idea of what that is, and how that fundamentally is at the heart of what art is. And what making art does is help to find perspective. It was a very healing and healthy exercise, to kind of be forced to look at a very confusing moment, and find some way to understand it.
"Even if you don't know exactly what conclusion to make, it gives you a chance to look at it, which ultimately gives you a chance to look at yourself, looking at it," she adds. "The value of that is enormous. It's a connecting force in all of us, this need to look at our reality, and find a perspective." That's one connection no virus can break.
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