Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
December 2014

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Once upon a time in Bad City...

Ana Lily Amirpour's shrewd, dazzling genre hybrid 'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' marks the arrival of an important new voice

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Kino Lorber
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Screenplay: Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marnò, Milad Eghbali, Rome Shadanloo and Dominic Rains
Not rated / 1 hour, 39 minutes
Now playing in limited release
(out of four)

With her feature debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Ana Lily Amirpour creates her own indelible mythological space, one drenched in pop iconography (particularly the American variety) and laced with surrealist impulses. It is at once distinctly familiar and strikingly original, a testament both to its cinematic literacy and a confident sense of vision uncommon for almost any film, let alone a freshman effort.

While so much of the movie industry obsesses over expansive universe-building, it's a small, Iranian-American vampire film that puts most of the rest to shame, creating a distinguished and tangible world all its own. Built on noir shadows, Western compositions and punk attitudes, it is a world that fits snugly inside existing pop cultural traditions while retaining a real and distinctive sense of mystique.

Its central figure (if not quite main character) - a mostly silent, enigmatic young woman (Sheila Vand) with a piercing stare, who just happens to be a vampire, patrolling the desolate night streets on the hunt for her next meal - is always identified by the same "uniform," like a heroine from a comic strip or a cartoon. A black-and-white striped top with a black chador that cloaks and frames her like a mysterious supervillain ... or perhaps a misunderstood, forlorn superhero.

She is the most secret citizen of Bad City - an appropriately pulpy name if there ever was one - and as she stalks one victim, then the next, we see streaks of righteous indignation in her selection process. We meet the vicious Saeed (Dominic Rains) - a pimp and a dealer - as he gets rough with a woman early on in the film. And so, when The Girl makes poor, unfortunate Saeed her next target - she shows up unannounced at his mini-estate; he's taken enough with her beauty that he allows her to slip right in unchallenged - we enjoy the ensuing butchery as much as she does.

Our perception of her broadens when she returns home, as she sheds her image - that comic-book costume - and we see her in a more innocent light. Posters of movie gods and pop stars adorn her walls, mismatched and overlapping, like what you might see in a teenage girl's bedroom in an '80s movie. (Oh, and to add to the sense of youthful innocence with which Amirpour imbues the character, The Girl does her stalking on those empty city streets while riding a skateboard.)

Predator, killer, avenging angel, lost soul ... romantic, even? At the very least, she shows a softer side at about the midpoint when she finally crosses paths with Arash (Arash Marandi), ostensibly the film's protagonist. He has just stumbled out of a party, high on ecstasy, having struck out with a beautiful neighborhood girl. He aimlessly finds himself on a quiet suburban street, and there she is.

Amirpour puts together an exquisite sequence here, beautifully utilizing familiar Western stylings to extract as much physical, sexual and emotional tension as possible out of the two characters' initial, accidental meeting. They face one another on the sidewalk - sometimes in wide shots, one on each side of the frame; other times more subjectively, the camera staring off at him or her, the relatively short distance between them seeming precarious at best - like gunslingers in the town square. The amusing part is, only she is aware that there's any face-off to be had; he's too far gone to even notice what's really happening.

After a dreamlike series of offbeat moments between the two, The Girl takes him back to her place, and instead of pouncing, she - mellowed by his vulnerability, and perhaps sensing his general kindness and goodness (certainly as opposed to the likes of Saeed) - leaves him be, and lets him sleep it off. The film never explicitly becomes a romance, but the way the pairing of the lonesome vampire girl and the quietly noble, aimless boy plays out is equal parts tender and subtly erotic.

Up until that sequence, the two narrative threads had been kept almost entirely separate. We spend much of the film's earlygoing getting to know Arash, who - with his floppy curls, easy charm and bitter, reserved demeanor - plays like a young Paul Newman type*.

* Consider the early intro shot of Arash, coolly leaning against a wooden fence - bright white T-shirt tucked into his jeans, cigarette on his lips, wind blowing through his hair. That is a Movie Star shot. And if Marandi's not Paul Newman, he may just be James Dean.

In fact, much of the film's visual vocabulary is reminiscent of the Americana of early Martin Ritt films, particularly his Newman collaborations Hud and The Long Hot Summer - the wide-open spaces, the small-town summer heat, even the sexy 1950s American muscle cars that grace the streets of Bad City. (The soundtrack provides a nice counterpoint to that specific old-fashionedness, brilliantly utilizing hip-hop, indie rock and electro-pop, among others.)

Arash is a loner and a jack-of-all-trades whose one prized possession is his car. He's in too deep to Saeed, primarily because he's been remorsefully, begrudgingly subsidizing his junkie father's (Marshall Manesh) habit for far too long. His eventual encounter with The Girl may be just the escape he needs.

The film slyly suggests that her presence isn't exactly a secret. An early shot matter-of-factly shows a giant ditch filled with corpses, their veins presumably drained of blood. Amirpour is a witty and clever filmmaker, and this is just one of the little surrealist touches that makes A Girl Walks Home so memorable. There are a lot of films and a lot of filmmakers whose stock and trade is cinematic and pop-culture motifs, but Amirpour is one of the rare few who is clearly able to harness them into something specific. What she creates here - largely by way of the recognizable iconography she employs so well - is a character and a world that feels soaked in its own new, but fully realized, mythology.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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