Monday, February 2, 2015

Movie Review: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour.
Written by: Ana Lily Amirpour.
Starring: Sheila Vand (The Girl), Arash Marandi (Arash), Marshall Manesh (Hossein), Mozhan MarnĂ² (Atti), Dominic Rains (Saeed), Rome Shadanloo (Shaydah), Milad Eghbali (The Street Urchin), Reza Sixo Safai (Rockabilly).

Like many films by first time directors, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night wears it’s influences on its sleeve. It’s impossible to watch the film, shot in stark black and white in Bakersfield, California, and not think of the early works of Jim Jarmusch – like Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Down by Law (1986). Or early David Lynch, like Eraserhead (1978). Or, in some of its shots, the work of Sergio Leone. Or the way in which the male lead is made to look like James Dean. Or the presence of a poor, young boy which reminds us of the Iranian New Wave, or even the post WWII Italian neo-realists. And on and on and on the influences go. Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, the movie does lean too heavily on these influences at times – but I didn’t really mind it that much. Amirpour takes her influences it takes them in some new, different directions – making a very odd feminist, vampire, western set in Iran, which is like a lot of films we have seen before – and yet something wholly unique at the same time. I look forward to see what she does next – when maybe she will leave some of those influences behind.

The movie is about two main characters. The first is Arash (Arash Marandi), who works as a gardener and general handyman, has a sweet 1950s hot rod, and has to care for his drug addicted father, who has a weakness for prostitutes – Hossein (Marshall Manesh). He’s deep in debt to Saeed (Dominic Rains), a tattooed pimp, drug dealer and all around horrible human being, who takes Arash’s car as payment for his debts, and then abuses the (apparently only) prostitute in his employ – Atti (Mozhan Marno) – who at 30, is getting old for type of work. The other main character is known only as The Girl (Seila Vand) – a vampire clocked in a chador, who sees all, stalks the streets silently, and will kill repeatedly throughout the movie – but seemingly only men who prey on women. The Girl is odd in many ways – from her cold eyes, to her room, donned with posters and images from the 1980s, and listening to music from the same decade. The movie alternates between these two characters – Arash and The Girl, slowly bringing them together. And the girl isn’t the only one who sees everything – there is also a skateboard riding kid (Milad Eghbali), who knows everything that is going on.

This is a very visual film – Amirpour doesn’t have a lot of dialogue in the film, and doesn’t really need it either. Everything she does is told visually, with some great flourishes (like the way The Girl uses that chador like Dracula uses his cape). The film is set in the fictional town of Bad City – presumably in Iran, since everyone is speaking Persian – but a desolate and lonely place, where there doesn’t seem to be too many people milling around at any one point – most likely a budgetary constraint, and a symptom of shooting a movie set in Iran in California, where Iranian extras were most likely in high supply. The film looks like it was shot on the cheap – and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Like those early Jarmusch and Lynch films, Amirpour uses her low budget to great effect – capturing memorable images throughout. The film is more a genre exercise – but one that crosses genres all over – than a sociopolitical statement about modern Iran – although the feminist bent to the movie does feel pointed and on target (but not just about Iran).

The film is one of the more striking debut films of 2014 – without ever quite being great. The movie drags at times – its 99 minute runtime is a little too long to support what is essentially a bare bones plot. But there is so much style here, that I didn’t much care. The film marks Amirpour is a director to watch. I cannot wait to see what she does next.

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