Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Title: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Year: 2014
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

Bad City, Iran looks and feels like a dying town, literally so given the scale of the municipal open air body pit that no one seems to regard with much apprehension or even notice. With Bad City as a depressing backdrop, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is composed of two parallel narratives, that of The Girl (Shela Vand) and Arash (Arash Marandi), whose paths inevitably intertwine. Both lead intensely dissatisfied lives, she listening to music by day and feeding on the blood of men by night and Arash a manual laborer dealing with a heroin addicted widower father. Arash's car is taken in payment of his father's drug debt by repulsive pimp/drug dealer Saeed (played by a ridiculously McConaughey-channeling Dominic Rains). After The Girl dispatches Saeed, Arash reclaims his car and appropriates the dealer's money and drugs. He  becomes the new pusher, presumably to make enough money to skip town.

The relationship between the two main characters is strange to say the least. They regard each other warily but feel some kind of mutual attraction, also sharing a love of Iranian and American music. Deep conversation is alien to both and they never say anything particularly revealing about their feelings for each other or anything else. Other viewers might beg to differ but not much really happens during the movie, its title a quite accurate representation of much of the action. Communication is maintained mainly through long silences and meaningful looks. Perhaps they are doing the best they can in Bad City but both individuals are unsympathetic characters. Arash deals drugs and banishes his admittedly infuriating father to the streets and The Girl (obviously) murders for sustenance. It's not known for certain but the film seems to suggest that all of the bodies in pit are her victims. While she does make some effort to kill bad men, a symbolic avenger of Middle Eastern societal misogyny and oppression, The Girl seems to have few qualms about opportunistic feasting, on the homeless for instance.

The directorial choices the UK born Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour makes are weirdly compelling. The movie was filmed in and around Bakersfield, California but the dialogue is spoken entirely in Farsi. Sense of place is odd, as the appearance of Bad City evokes US-Mexican border town far more than an Iranian locale. The intended meanings behind movie Western inspired scenes and direct references to American classic car, music, and food cultures are open ended but contribute to Amirpour's clearly intentional genre and culture blending aims.

Filmed in sharply focused, high contrast black and white, the film is beautiful to look at, especially the ways bright light and shadow play upon characters and objects during the many night scenes. The Girl skateboarding or dreamily stalking her victims on light flooded night streets in her flowing black chador certainly add new imagery to cinematic vampire lore. There's even a moment when the chador and the classic Dracula cape and high collar appear together in the same scene. The B&W filming choice along with the movie's lingering camera, genre-mingling qualities, unhurried pace, offbeat music, and lonely, laconic protagonist(s) all seem richly inspired by the works of Jim Jarmusch.

An interesting mood piece in an unexpected setting, the minimalist story nevertheless falls flat at an overlong 101 minutes. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a worthwhile contributor to the subset of recent independent movies seeking to reinvent or reinvigorate the vampire film genre, but it doesn't quite match the upper tier achievements of Let the Right One In, Only Lovers Left Alive, or even Byzantium.

Rating: 5/10

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