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Saturday, 27 June 2015

Review: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – Ana Lily Amirpour’s ‘Iranian vampire western’ – might just be my favourite film of the year so far




A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Mirandi, Marshall Manesh
Running time: 101mins

Disappointingly, Skateboarding Iranian Vampire isn’t a horror spin-off from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. It does, however, describe the main character in an utterly beguiling first full-length feature from writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour.

Set in Bad City, a windblown, oddly-deserted industrial town somewhere in Iran (Taft, California in reality), this most peculiar of love stories centres on The Girl (Sheila Vand), a lonely, chador-clad blood-sucker who prowls the streets looking for wrongs to right and evil men to punish. One such night-time patrol brings her into contact with troubled Arash (Arash Marandi) – one part James Dean, one part major doofus – and they enjoy an immediate mutual attraction.

The plot is deliberately slight and the subtitled dialogue (the film is in Farsi) pretty sparse. Neither of those things matters, though, because Amirpour is more interested in what The Girl represents and making sure everything around her looks fabulous while that is explored.

Shot in gorgeous, high-contrast black and white with cinematographer Lyle Vincent, Bad City is the kind of place that only exists in movies or comic-books. It’s a noirish modern wasteland full of empty car parks and desolate boulevards in which deep shadow and shimmering street lights engage in a perennial war for supremacy. In other words, it’s the perfect setting for criminality, horror and a forbidden romance between two forsaken outsiders.

Stylistically, the film is a mash-up of all sorts of seemingly random elements and influences (David Lynch, Rebel Without a Cause, spaghetti westerns, German expressionism, fairy tales, Tarantino, Springsteen) from a host of different eras, and is therefore possessed of a certain timeless quality. It looks old and new at exactly the same time – very now but just as likely to have been made at any time during the last 50 years. Or even the next 50.

Playing ‘spot the influence’ with Girl is easy and fun but shouldn’t detract from the fact Amirpour’s film quickly transcends the notion that it’s just a conveyor belt of hip references. If she isn’t creating something startlingly new here then it’s the next best thing. It is never just an exercise in vampiric angst either, and some of the film’s finest moments are also its funniest (like the scene in which The Girl encounters Arash wandering the streets off his head on ecstasy, wearing a home-made Dracula costume).



The Girl of the title – for whom we are offered no back story – is an avenging angel, on a mission to exact revenge upon men who hurt or exploit women. Almost every adult male character here is some kind of misogynist; from the TV talking head warning “dearest ladies” of what might happen if their husband “leaves you and finds himself another wife”, to the violent pimp Saeed (Dominic Rains) and Arash’s addict father Houssein (Marshall Manesh). Women are conquests and chattel, to be patronised and controlled, used for sex, shot full of heroin or knocked about. The Girl might not be able to take her mission to the very top of Iranian society (from where such attitudes emanate) but these lowly, bottom-feeding males are fair game… and one she relishes. At one point she even interrogates a terrified young boy – stealing his skateboard and hissing into his ear, “I can take your eyes out of your skull and give them to dogs to eat”. She might be easier on the eye, but our protagonist is every bit as much a creature of blood and violence as Nosferatu or Dracula.

Her attraction to pretty-boy Arash is therefore an interesting one and an argument could be made that it dents the film’s otherwise impeccable feminist credentials. But he is the victim of mephitic men, too; specifically Saeed, who snatches his prized car to pay off Houssein’s debts. Arash might fashion himself a bad boy – dealing ecstasy and trying to kiss spoiled local rich-girl Shaydah – but it’s his gentler side The Girl is clearly most attracted to. The side that tries to look after his deadbeat dad, gives her (stolen) earrings in the film’s most perfect scene, and cares for a cat he steals to keep him company. 





A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’s soundtrack is glorious too. There’s no composed score but rather a collection of perfectly chosen songs by a host of diverse acts. Federale (featuring the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Collin Hegna) do a lot of the heavy lifting, their Ennio Morricone-inspired tracks fitting the film’s western vibe like a snug cowboy boot. Elsewhere, Amirpour demonstrates an eclectic ear as she serves up a smorgasbord of delights – dazzling pop, Iranian rock and folk, lush ambient dance. So strong is the soundtrack it actually makes you forget that many of the film’s stand-out moments feature no musical accompaniment at all. Silence – or what passes for it in Bad City – is just as effective.

On the strength of Girl, Amirpour – an Iranian/American actually born in Margate – clearly has the potential to be a stellar new talent and I can’t wait to see The Bad Batch, her next project starring Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey. Billed as a “post-apocalyptic cannibal love story”, it sounds like something well worth sinking your fangs into.

Rating: WWWW

If you’re quick, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is still showing in some cinemas. It is released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27. Its soundtrack is available on CD and digital download now.



Ratings

WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthwhile
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

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