Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, AReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 01/04/15 17:03:41
(Worth A Look)
I don't know that I necessarily buy the "western" part of how "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" is billed as "the first Iranian Vampire Western", even if there is occasionally some Morricone-sounding music on the soundtrack. At least that description gives someone at the ticket counter an idea of how enjoyably odd this movie is.It takes a while before we are introduced to The Girl (Sheila Vand); first we're introduced to Arash (Arash Marandi), who works odd jobs to pay for his classic car and the drug habit of his father Hossein (Marshall Manesh). That is supplied by local dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains), who also has an arrangement with hooker Atti (Mozhan Marno). But just as Arash is about to steal from his boss's pretty daughter Shaydah (Rome Shadanloo) to pay off Saeed, the dealer invites that harmless-looking girl back to his place.
Even taking into account that the movie's "Bad City" seems like a pretty modern place, this story is less of a Western and more a film noir or youth-oriented drama; the setting is industrial, with oil derricks busy working in the background, the problems seeming locked in place rather than just passing through. Lyle Vincent's black-and-white cinematography is crisp and urban, sharp contrasts instead of natural grays. Writer/director/producer Ana Lily Amirpour, of course, isn't trying to represent just one genre, though, and she and her team build this world in clever, intriguing ways, from the quarry in the middle of town that is half Boot Hill and half mass grave to how the girl's hijab often makes her a formless shadow even as the stripes on her shirt indicate a hip young woman inside.
It's one of the most clever ways of depicting someone supernatural so that they both fit into and jump out of the real world that I can recall seeing on film, instantly iconic. It's not immediately obvious that Amirpour stakes out any other symbolism for her vampire rather than just dropping her into this mash-up world; there's a part of me that wants to jump to the conclusion that a single young woman in Iran (or a similar place) must become this sort of shadow creature to survive if she doesn't have the privilege of a Shaydah or wish to sell herself like Atti, although that seems somewhat presumptuous. Even looking at the film through that prism, it makes Sheila Vand's nameless girl more intriguing than anything - Vand is great at mischief and shy cool, and while she does what she can when asked to be scary, the thinness of the story means there's no reason why she's threatening people.
Given that she's mostly targeting Bad City's lowlife population, it's a bit curious that she seldom seems terribly conflicted toward Arash, who at the very least seems willing to seize questionable opportunities as soon as they appear in front of him. Still, Arash Marandi does manage to project just enough reluctance and balance his namesake character's anger at the world's unfairness with appreciation when it drops something good in his lap to make him an entertaining anti-hero. He and Vand play off each other well even without a lot of words.
Is that quite enough to add up to a movie? If not, a nifty soundtrack, occasional amusing background gags, and a supporting cast where everyone has at least one good, often funny scene (Dominic Rains's absurd but still threatening Saeed being a standout in that regard), gets it over the hump and into territory that's a lot of fun. And that's before mentioning the cat, who is expressive and responsive enough in certain scenes as to make one wonder if he's a puppet or other bit of effects wizardry, because what cat looks where you want him to on cue?That and a number of other things make "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" a unique movie (well, unique considering it's a feature version of something Amirpour previously did as a short). It's often rather loose, but there's something exciting about that - like putting a Persian-American spin on genre tropes has made them feel full of potential, rather than just harnessed them to make a specific point.
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