Release: Friday, November 21, 2014
Written by: Ana Lily Amirpour
Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour
In Iranian-American Ana Lily Amirpour’s first film only two things are certain: you will meet a girl, and you will see her walking home alone at night. Outside the realm of the obvious exists a strange and ominous atmosphere laden with unpredictability and breathtaking creativity, an environment that challenges viewers’ preconceived notions of what vampires can and cannot do or be.
In the film you’ll see a vampire skateboarding. You’ll also see her seeking out wayward men for their tasty blood supply. I think it’s clear which of the actions hew closer to traditional vampiric values; yet for all of its clever subversiveness this isn’t a movie aching with the pain of vampiric immortality, it’s the kind of love story mainstream Hollywood time and again harps on using beautiful looking people to sell the sensation of kissing born out of true love, but the catch is this one’s brilliantly disguised in layers of velvety texture and genre-blurring style. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night isn’t really much without its own chador, but my goodness, what a stylish cover it is.
Perhaps it’s too dismissive paralleling Amirpour’s art with Tinseltown’s preference for Happily Ever After. The denouement left me wanting, but I now find myself overcome with the striking visual imagery and subdued performances that, when coalescing in earnest, recall an era of Hollywood production well before my time — a shot of the nameless girl (hello, Sheila Vand) applying make-up in her humble abode evokes a Middle Eastern Audrey Hepburn in all her ethereal beauty. But the longer I sat there, ever more entranced by the contrasts in the film’s gorgeous grayscale the more I realized the sum total of the production mattered less than its more memorable passages.
Girl is just as much about grappling with loneliness and/or failed romance — Bad City is one strange place, its population of night-prowling prostitutes reminds one of the inescapable hopelessness of Basin City — as it is concerned with identity. The titular girl more often than not manifests as a specter of death as she stalks a brutish thug who she witnesses abusing a hooker in a vehicle he has just stolen from the film’s second lead, Arash (Arash Marandi). Our introduction to the girl is foreboding, but in the aftermath of a forthcoming scene in which the thug assumes he is successful in seducing her, we get a glimpse of the vigilantism that is to come. Her physical appearance — one that is borderline iconic already — causes prejudice as we’re never fully certain what she is capable of. We pick up a pattern though. She seems to prey upon men, and not just any man she comes across.
Ostensibly Bad City’s guardian . . . vampire, she’s more interested in ridding the town of its evildoers — if you do see other people in the frame there’s a good chance they belong to the mass grave of bodies in a shallow ravine. It’s not until she comes across Arash, cloaked in a Dracula cape and false fanged teeth (who also happens to be tripping balls on ecstasy having just stumbled out of a Halloween party), that we get a better handle on how Amirpour means to go about depicting a less civilized society, one plagued by moral turpitude and antiquated views on gender roles. The long, flowing headdress manifests as traditional garb worn by Muslim women and phantasms alike, even if the association with the latter is more approximation than traditional visual manifestation (capes typically do not fully engulf a vampire’s body head-to-toe, yet that’s what’s demanded of most Middle Eastern women).
When found in her apartment bathing in the throbbing pulses of some kind of new wave music (I’m not cool enough to be able to tell you exactly what or who it is), sans her enigmatic exterior, the girl becomes, in some ways, even more mysterious. She seems a perfectly ordinary teenaged girl, one with a fascination for pop culture and presumably a desire to be anywhere but where she currently is. Arash, the good boy, starts hanging out with her more often, intrigued by her aloofness. Though she barely speaks, even in the company of someone who actually seems to care about whether or not she’s freezing cold, mutual attraction is evident. Love, as it is portrayed in many a big-budget Hollywood production, is thick and syrupy yet it enables our principals to get over things they otherwise couldn’t. If there’s a flaw in Amirpour’s auspicious debut, it’s the realization that love apparently does conquer all. The conclusion is far less interesting than what has preceded it — minus Masuka the cat, that was great casting — and feels too safe. Too routine for a production so firmly rooted in unorthodoxy.
Girl marks an exciting beginning for an up-and-coming director and effectively establishes yet another intriguing take on the vampire legend. Last year Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive struck a chord with audiences, providing an absorbing and amusing take on the curse of immortality. Highly atmospheric and memorably performed, that film invited audiences in to its obscure yet wholly believable world of hipster vampires. That audience clearly had Amirpour in attendance. Eerie, enigmatic and unforgettable, her painstakingly off-beat creation is superlative ‘style over substance’ filmmaking.
Recommendation: Unlike any film I’ve seen before, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is quite the experience, yet its methodical pace, limited dialogue (spoken in Farsi with English subtitles), and borderline erratic genre shifting could prove too much for some viewers. Girl is more an art form and less a story you can . . . uh, sink your teeth into; it’s eerie, haunting, mesmerizing and oh-so-slightly amusing all at once. I’d say it’s worth a look for those in search of something off the beaten path. And it’s right there for you on Netflix.
Running Time: 101 mins.
Quoted: “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me alone.”
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