Sunday, November 23, 2014

Review: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Image courtesy of Kino Lorber.
Ana Lily Amirpour's debut "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" may take on the tired genre of the vampire film and its style may be reminiscent of early David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch films, but it's still a unique creation all its own.

The film has become known as the "Iranian vampire western" in the same way that "Brokeback Mountain" was the "gay cowboy movie." The western element is questionable, although the filmmaker fills the soundtrack with music that might have sounded at home in a Sergio Leone picture, but it's the horror genre that Amirpour is clearly turning on its head here and one could argue that the film is not only the first picture about bloodsuckers to be set in the Middle East, but is also the first feminist vampire movie in some time.

Set in a fictional ghost town known as Bad City (the film is in Farsi, although the movie was shot in California), the story follows two threads that eventually merge. The first involves a young man named Arash (Arash Marandi), who is overly protective of his car and cat and has a father (Marshall Manesh) who is hooked on heroin.

The picture's second thread follows a young woman known only as The Girl (Sheila Vand, in what has to be a break-out performance), who happens to be a vampire and spends most of her evenings strolling the streets of the fictional Bad City decked out in a black chador and stalking prey. Most of The Girl's victims happen to be men - and mostly sinister ones, at that.

There are plenty of bad men to be found in Bad City. Not only is there Arash's drug addict father, who mistreats a prostitute whom The Girl later befriends, but there is also the horrible pimp/drug dealer whom Arash's father owes money, leading to Arash losing his beloved car early in the film as a means of payment. There's also a nosy young boy who comes into contact with both Arash and The Girl and much like the film's male protagonist, he loses his mode of transportation - a skateboard, which The Girl then uses to eerily float through the night, her chador flowing out behind her.

If what I'm describing to you sounds strange, that's because it is - but in the best way. The film, which was shot in black and white, has an early 1990s feel to it and Amirpour fills the movie with unforgettable images of rolling clouds, The Girl rolling on her skateboard along a wall with her back to the camera, a man dancing in a Ronald Reagan mask, a drag queen dancing in the morning sunlight and a wonderful final shot involving Arash, his car, The Girl and the cat.

Some might argue that style wins out slightly over substance in "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" and this wouldn't exactly be an unfair argument. But the picture obviously takes risks. Amirpour's female characters enjoy more freedom in the film than they might in Iran, but it's because they struggle for their liberation, mostly against unsympathetic male characters, Arash excluded. And the film includes images - nudity and drug use, for example - you'd be very unlikely to see in an Iranian movie (and I'm certainly not knocking Iranian cinema, which has has given us some of the richest films of recent years).

"A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" is a very good film - and an experience, if you know what I mean. Although it is stylistically similar to several American indie classics, it has a flow and a personality of its own. It's a moody reinvention of the vampire genre that could be a real cinematic discovery to those who are willing to give themselves over to its dreamy story of complicated relationships, cool cars, wicked men and empowered women.

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