Monday, April 27, 2015

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – review

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

Sometimes the buzz around a film threatens to overshadow the film itself. When I first started hearing about this it was suggested that it was the first Iranian vampire film, this was amended to the first western Iranian vampire film. As far as I know the first Iranian vampire film was Vampir, Zan-e Khoon-Asham (1967). The added descriptor “western” was better, but not just because of the western genre, because this seems to be where East meets West.

The dialogue is in the Farsi language but the content seems very American (rather than simply western genre) Iranian, drawing in influences from the wild west, rock n’ roll and industrialism (to name a few) – fitting as writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour is Iranian-American (Amirpour was born in England but then moved to the US when young).

Arash Marandi as Arash
The film opens on Arash (Arash Marandi) smoking, looking for all the world like James Dean. He throws the cigarette aside and climbs through a gap in a fence. When he emerges he is carrying a cat. As Arash walks, we look around Bad City; we see a rockabilly (Reza Sixo Safai) with his face painted stood on a corner perhaps a dealer, perhaps a whore, we see an open ditch with bodies piled in it and we see a pristine Ford Thunderbird – Arash’s car. A street urchin (Milad Eghbali) begs for money but Arash has none. When the urchin points to his car he says it took him working 2191 days to get the car.

Marshall Manesh as Hossein
Whilst a TV talks to women and suggests that, as they stay at home and their husband works, eventually he will leave for a younger model, Hossein (Marshall Manesh) injects himself between his toes. Hossein is Arash’s father, his mother is gone. I assume, given later details about the cat having her eyes, that she is dead but equally, given the TV commentary, as Hossein stays at home stoned she may have left for a younger model. A gangsta looking guy, Saeed (Dominic Rains), comes to the door. As I saw him in the film my mind kept flipping to (almost a sanitised version of) Ninja from the group Die Antwoord. He is a dealer and pimp, and Hossein owes him money. He takes the thunderbird and Arash smashes his hand against a wall in frustration.

Dominic Rains as Saeed
Arash works as a gardener at a mansion. The only resident we see is the daughter Shaydah (Rome Shadanloo), who appears to be recovering from cosmetic surgery on her nose. She calls Arash to her room to fix her TV. He interrupts her gossipy phone call to suggest it is inappropriate for her to be in the room alone with him – however it is pretence, she has left diamond earrings on the side and he nervously pockets them. We cut to night and Saeed forces prostitute Atti (Mozhan Marnò) into ‘his’ car. He takes her money, makes comments about her age and has her blow him. This is disturbed when he feels he is being watched. It is a girl (Sheila Vand) wearing a chador, she vanishes but he kicks Atti out refusing her the proper cut from her earnings.

We see the girl (she’s never named) go to her home, dancing to music and putting makeup on. Later she walks past Saeed on the street and then stops and looks at him. He takes her home, ignoring her at first as he does cocaine, counts money and plays with weights. He approaches her and she produces fangs and he stands, fascinated, as she lifts a finger and pricks it before sucking it into her mouth (a version of what Atti did earlier, indeed the scene is her mirroring Atti but then going beyond) and then biting the finger off. She attacks him and feeds. Meanwhile Arash has arrived outside Saeed’s house and phones in, getting the answer machine we hear him saying he has something for the gangsta and wants his car back.

stoned out of his gourd
The girl walks out, her chador covering the blood on her top but her face smeared, and passes Arash. He goes in the house, finds Saeed’s body and takes back his car keys (and Saeed’s briefcase of money and drugs). This leads to Arash dealing and also paying to get his hand put in plaster. He eventually attends a costume party selling drugs where, dressed as Dracula, he is peddling E. Shaydah persuades him to take one but rebuffs his clumsy attempt to kiss her. He later, stoned out of his gourd, meets the girl and from there an awkward romance develops.

Arash and the girl
The girl is a vampire and I have heard it suggested in articles that she only attacks the wicked. This, to me, was not true. She certainly does attack Saeed and questions the street urchin as to whether he is good or bad (taking his skateboard and demanding he not lie – when he says he is good – and extolling him to be good) and scaring the hell out of him whilst threatening to take his eyes. However we also see her attack a homeless man for whom we have no indication of morality. She also sees herself as bad and Arash is not entirely an angel (and implies as much to her).

an expression of unspoken truth
We get no real lore communicated. We only see her at night, but that doesn’t indicate that she can’t go out during the day as it is never touched on. In a wonderful piece of symbolism the film touches on the reflection myth as the girl mirrors Hossein on the street, but mutely and more obviously than the earlier scene with Saeed where she mirrored Atti. Indeed, rather than saying the vampire has no reflection this film suggests that the vampire is the reflection. The only touch on religion is when she states she is not religious. The chador seems almost cape like, especially when she skateboards, and that mode of transport gives an image of the vampire’s glide but with a post-modern humour – again we get a mirror when she meets Arash in his Dracula cape and then wheels him home on the skateboard. Interestingly, given the Le Fanu promoted connection between cats and vampires, the cat acts as a conduit through the film. Hossein accuses it of watching him with Arash’s mother’s eyes and it becomes the expression of an unspoken truth between Arash and the girl.

Sheila Vand as the girl
I have heard some similes drawn between this and the Addiction but, beyond a vampire, black and white photography and an art-house sensibility, I refute this. The Addiction was concentrated on (surprisingly enough) addiction and was gritty and disturbing. This mentions addiction (through Hossein) but not through the vampire and is actually (surprisingly) not that gritty – in fact its story is as sparse as the population of Bad City. That isn’t to say it is a bad film, it is visually lyrical, beautifully shot (though reliant a little too much on changing depth of focus) and the soundtrack is wonderful and evocative, mixing East and West (though missing an inclusion of the Spiritual Front – whose spaghetti western vibe and nihilistic outlook may just have been perfect, but that is a personal thought and I digress). Likewise the acting – especially from Sheila Vand and Arash Marandi – is brilliant.

The film is slow, almost languid, in places but suits the pace. 7 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

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