A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

The Good, The Bad And The Bitey

SFX - - Rated - Stephen Kelly

Ira­nian- Amer­i­can direc­tor Ana Lily Amir­pour’s de­but fresh­ens up vam­pires.

Re­lease Date: 22 May 15 | 101 min­utes Direc­tor: Ana Lily Amir­pour Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Mar­shall Manesh, Mozhan Marnò, Do­minic Rains, Rome Shadan­loo

Some­where in Iran, in the dead of night, a vam­pire skate­boards down the street, her chador – a vari­a­tion of the hi­jab – bil­low­ing be­hind her like a su­per­hero’s cape. In the pre­vi­ous scene she threat­ened to eat the eyes out of a child’s skull; a few scenes later The Girl is shar­ing an erot­i­cally charged scene with a young man dressed up as Drac­ula, set to “Death” by indie- rock­ers White Lies.

It’s safe to say that not since 2008’ s Let The Right One In has there been a fresher take on the vam­pire genre than A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night; or, at the very least, that it may very well be the best black- and­white Ira­nian vam­pire spaghet­ti­West­ern noir that you’ll see this year.

The fea­ture film de­but of writer and direc­tor Ana Lily Amir­pour, it takes place in the fic­tional Bad City, a town that has as much to do with its set­ting of Iran ( and its lan­guage) as A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night has to do with be­ing a girl. In­stead, it’s a piece of ur­ban fan­tasy, with Amir­pour ( who was raised in Amer­ica) imag­in­ing her par­ents’ home­land as a bleak, des­o­late hive of sex, drugs and pulp – Frank Miller’s Sin City on a hard, hazy han­gover. ( Un­sur­pris­ingly, given Iran’s strict gov­ern­ment regime, the film was shot in Cal­i­for­nia.)

One of the most no­table res­i­dents of Bad City is Sheila Vand’s The Girl, a young vam­pire who divides her time be­tween stalk­ing the streets, prey­ing ( mostly) on de­spi­ca­ble men, and sit­ting at home, sul­lenly lis­ten­ing to hip mu­sic on vinyl. Her age is never re­vealed, but rest as­sured: she was prob­a­bly into suck­ing blood be­fore it was cool. Dur­ing her mur­der­ous trav­els, she crosses paths with the likes of drug- deal­ing pimp Saeed ( Do­minic Rains), his mis­er­able pros­ti­tute Atti ( Mozhan Marno), a cus­tomer of his, the be­reaved Hos­sein ( Mar­shall Manesh) and his hand­some, long- suf­fer­ing son Arash ( Arash Marandi), whose fa­ther’s drug debts land him in a spot of bother. And it’s the lat­ter that The Girl strikes up an un­easy, ten­ta­tive ro­mance with.

The story it­self is quiet and sparse, its nar­ra­tive pow­ered by mood more than any­thing else, mean­ing that its eco­nomic use of shocks – es­pe­cially a gory one in­volv­ing a sucked fin­ger – hits all the harder, but also that it suf­fers a slug­gish lack of drive in its fi­nal act, as The Girl and Arash’s re­la­tion­ship concludes with more of a whim­per, than a bang. Not that that taints the story over­all, which is mag­nif­i­cently told.

It’s clear that A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is in­formed by a gen­uine love for film, its patch­work of in­flu­ences rang­ing from the min­i­mal­ist indie tone of Jim Jar­musch to the gothic at­mos­phere of Nos­fer­atu and Drac­ula, and the dra­matic pomp of Ser­gio Leone’s Dol­lars tril­ogy. In­deed, its en­tire open­ing – from the Ennio Mor­ri­cone- style twang of the mu­sic to the familiar ty­pog­ra­phy of its cred­its – is a huge spaghetti West­ern homage.

And yet, while A Girl… is re­as­sur­ingly familiar, it is not so en­am­oured by its in­spi­ra­tions as to fail to of­fer some­thing new. Amir­pour’s di­rec­tion, for a start, is ex­traor­di­nar­ily con­fi­dent, with near- on ev­ery shot crafted with imag­i­na­tion, care and pur­pose. In par­tic­u­lar, scenes in­volv­ing The Girl fol­low­ing some­one – whether she looms over a shoul­der or lingers be­hind in pro­file – are as moody and men­ac­ing as they are vis­ually iconic, with more than a few shots that wouldn’t look out of place in a photography ex­hi­bi­tion.

The Girl her­self has a lot to do with this. Sheila Vand plays the vam­pire with an ef­fec­tively del­i­cate sense of de­tach­ment, coldly re­gard­ing hu­man­ity with equal mea­sures of be­wil­der­ment and dis­gust, as if she’s star­ing at an ant

Not since 2008’ s Let The Right One In has there been a fresher take on the vam­pire genre

farm. A won­der­ful ex­am­ple is the scene in which The Girl finds her­self in­vited into the home of the creepy, if charis­matic, drug dealer Saeed, a strik­ing cre­ation played with devil­ish de­light by Rains. It’s an en­counter fraught with dark hu­mour, as Saeed at­tempts to se­duce her with en­thu­si­as­tic danc­ing, only for the vam­pire to look silently on, with veiled contempt. The hunter and the prey – and Saeed is very much mis­taken as to which one he is.

But such snarl would tire if it wasn’t tem­pered by some­thing deeper and hu­man, and Vand bal­ances the two well, with a per­for­mance that hints at a long, haunted his­tory of pain and guilt be­neath her char­ac­ter’s cold, harsh ve­neer; a depth that makes sure the story’s sub­stance isn’t to­tally over­shad­owed by its style.

One of the more ob­vi­ous as­sump­tions to make about A Girl

Walks Home Alone At Night is that it’s a fem­i­nist twist on the genre – an anti- Twi­light. Its ti­tle, for one, evokes the typ­i­cal idea of the woman as a vic­tim, when the re­al­ity is quite dif­fer­ent. For an­other, The Girl’s vic­tims – in an­other role re­ver­sal – are mostly misog­y­nist males. Although, given the script’s sub­tle na­ture ( and the fact that she also kills a ran­dom home­less guy), that’s left open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

What’s not, how­ever, is that the film is about feel­ing trapped by your cir­cum­stances – whether that means an over­pow­er­ing thirst for blood or hav­ing to sell your body for money – and the lone­li­ness that fol­lows. And it’s in that lone­li­ness that The Girl and Arash strike up a bond, one that is mostly un­spo­ken. On pa­per, of course, such a lack of con­ver­sa­tion should kill their ro­mance stone dead, but Amir­pour’s di­rec­tion speaks vol­umes. Their scenes to­gether are few, but they mat­ter. The erot­i­cally charged se­quence men­tioned ear­lier, for in­stance, is elec­tri­fy­ing in its ex­e­cu­tion; as the two first- time lovers move to­ward each other with the tense, glacial pace of a hor­ror, all per­fectly pitched to its sound­track, all so in­ti­mate you can prac­ti­cally feel the breath on your neck. It says more than words ever could. For that alone, Ana Lily Amir­pour has be­come one of cinema’s most ex­cit­ing prospects.

Mar­jorie’s bar­ber­shop of­fered a deeply per­sonal ser­vice.

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