Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Everybody wants something. The young and restless Arash wants something better than looking after his difficult junky of a father. Saeed is a dealer who wants anything that interests him. His hooker/business partner wants her life to improve. The street urchin is happy with his board but wants Arash's muscle car. And the girl of the title who walks the dusty streets of the oil town alone at night, she wants blood. She and Arash don't know it yet but they also want each other. That's pretty much it as far as plot and motivation go for this one. But this film is less concerned with those beyond their narrative power to bring these characters together.

The rest is cinema. If this sounds like it's on the side of the angels of indulgence then it should but there is merit here. First, performances are pitch perfect throughout: Sheila Vand as the Girl manages to skate between sullen adolescence and alien monstrosity on call without showing her working; she is magnetic. Arash Marandi plays his hotboy malcontent with volatility so that we know the wounded seeker of love is there in the shadow of the roaring rocker with the American car. And everyone else on screen from the street boy to the rich girl to the father (who could have come from a Bela Tarr epic) to the pimpy dealer to the hooker, all placed within the darkened game board of Bad City.

The Iran of the story is partly remembered (it was shot in California) and partly fantasised. Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour an Iranian ex-pat knows she could never have made this film in her native land (not Iran but read up on what Haifaa Al-Mansour had to go through to make Wadjda) and there is a strong sense of spirit breaking through in the deliberate feel of these scenes. It's not vengeful or spiteful but more relieved.

The other side is a kind of glee at mixing Iran with vampires and westerns. Bad City is a clump of blocks pasted around oil fields. At night the town keeps within its own walls. Fatally illegal raves thump quietly and the drug and sex trades around them spread out like a spill of analgesia. Arash and others walk cross a bridge, thinking nothing of the corpses piled high in the gully below. If someone is walking out at night they are in danger or dangerous.  And the drillers swing back and forth like huge infernal pistons. This is all rendered not in the indulgent shallowness of 80s indy cinema but the room deep greyscale of Eraserhead. There is a creaminess to the image, a sheen that never entirely looks like the video it was shot on but never quite film either.

Amirpour uses the scope screen purposefully giving us linear motion (often with a warm humour) and some starkness to the isolation of the figures. This allows for a balletic action in many scenes with the narrow horizontal field serving as a stage. The Girl's black chador is used ingeniously, allowing her to appear alien and threatening here like a shadow without a figure or orderly and controlled there like the beast behind the mask that she is.

These are the kinds of things that Amirpour is sharing with us here. It's true, if you were expecting some development and depth from the well constructed elements of the first third you will be disappointed. After a certain amount of background has been established we are only given a situation as it is and might find the final dilemma a little too light. It is, nevertheless, there on screen and constitutes a genuine resolution.

I've seen some reviews and commentary online comparing this to a Jarmusch film. If you want that on the same level, go back to 1994 and Michael Almereyda's Nadja. At one point Nadja's brother describes Nadja's telepathic communication with him as a psychic fax. It's a funny line. Later she says that she's just received a psychic fax. Another funny line but like so much in this dated piece it seems too cool to commit to the genre it has chosen and ends up wayward and lost. Jim Jarmusch did make his own vampire film. It was better than Nadja but only through the maturity that two decades must demand. The difference is that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night likes being what it is and is happy to seriously blend its genres without a wink of irony. It is so much better for it.

So, while this doesn't break my best of 2014 list it is a good one to round off the year or begin the next one as its values return us to the best of the indy cinema of the 80s which sought to explore and discover rather than impress with scholarship and request no further reward than our attention. In that way it makes me recall She's Gotta Have It, The Quiet Earth, Parting Glances, The Draughtsman's Contract or The Element of Crime. And the really nice thing is, it's not trying to be like them at all, it's just someone else making some discoveries of her own. More!

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