Stars – Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Mozhan Marinó, Dominic Rains, Milad Eghbali, Rome Shadanloo, Marshall Manesh
Director – Ana Lily Amirpour
Released by Kino Lorber
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
A girl walking alone in parts of the Mid East is not a common sight. Far less common would be a girl walking by herself at night. The title itself, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night may be seen as taking a stand against the cultures that would demand that this lady be accompanied on her sojourn. But walk alone she does. She is simply known as The Girl. She is dressed with a traditional long cloak and headscarf. The fabric flows out behind her as she walks. There is a boy, Arash. He drives an incredibly cool car that looks like the type James Dean would be seen in. He saved up for it working hour by hour. He remembers exactly how many hours it took to buy it. His father is a junkie who owes money to a pusher. The pusher takes the boy’s car to help pay his father’s debt. Now the boy walks at night. They live in Bad City. There are very few people around at night. Pimps, prostitutes, a transvestite, pushers, junkies, a young kid out too late and the boy and the girl.
There is not much of a narrative story at all here. The spoken language is Farsi with subtitles running across the bottom of the screen. Those who do not like reading subtitles need not worry as there is precious little dialogue spoken in the film. The pace is slow, languid even. The actors pose in long extended takes. However the film is rich in the gorgeous black and white cinemaphotography of Lyle Vincent. After about twenty minutes the lack of story or much of anything happening bothered me but I had no trouble hanging in there due to the series of fantastic tableaus that filled the screen. Much of the imagery is drawn from the type of art found in graphic novels but it has its own distinct rhythm. This is far more a series of pictures and moments than the typical style of moviemaking. Director Ana Lily Amirpour lets us know right from the start that The Girl is a vampire. Though she kills and takes her nourishment there are no bloody or violent encounters.
Almost all the actors become props for the increasingly beguiling pictures that are offered. The only actor that has any energy at all is the pusher. He’s aggressive, loud and out of place in the melancholy pace that everyone else moves in. Arash and The Girl meet and discover a common interest in music. One night he gives her a present of jeweled earrings. He tells her that her ears are not pierced like other girls. She asks him to pierce them, He heats a needle and in a clever reversal of the vampire’s ritual of taking a companion he pierces her. He does this twice, once in each ear just like the two bite holes her fangs would have left in his neck. It might be romantic but they are so quiet you can’t tell. There is only one part when they ever so slowly smile at each other.
Though the director call this film her Iranian Vampire Western it was actually shot in California with the Farsi dialogue done phonetically. Ana Lily Armirpour was born in England. Her family lived in Miami then moved to California. She trained at UCLA. She is an Iranian-American. She’s got a bundle of cultures and influences coursing through her celluloid veins. This is her first film and while her style, at present lacks the discipline usually found in more polished Hollywood films she has a tremendous visual way of expressing herself. There is a scene where The Girl confronts a young boy on the streets at night. She asks him if he is a good boy. He says yes and she asks him several more times then tells him she will be watching him. Is she telling the boy not to grown up to be the kind of dominating man so common in that society? Is she taking a stand for female equality? We don’t know. What we do see though in the next scene is that she has taken his skateboard. Vincent gives us a shot of her skating past the boarded up industrial buildings. She flows down the street with her headscarf and cloak trailing out behind her. With shots like that the film just takes you along forgoing the expected story and dialogue. Much of the film is entrancing like that.
Rarely does a film come along that can just get by with such a measured pace and an almost purely visual style. Gus Van Sant who is best known for Good Will Hunting (1997) has made some films like Paranoid Park (2007) that work wonderfully on that level. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a marvelous cinematic experience. Will it be enough of a vampire film for horror fans – likely not. However it you have a little patience and a taste for stunning black and white photography you may very well fall under its considerable spell.
Video – 2.35:1 B/W
This is a simply stunning looking film.
Audio – 5.1 surround in Farsi with optional English subtitles
There is hardly any dialogue at all. Though there is little use of effects in the surrounds we do get a nice mix of songs drawn from a variety of sources that blend in very well with the film.
Extras – Behind-the-Scenes, Footage Collectible Graphic Novels with Essay by Eric Kohn, Deleted Scenes, Q&A Hosted by Roger Corman at the Hammer Museum, part of MoMA’s Contenders Series, Stills Gallery, Trailer, VICE Behind-the-Scenes Documentary, VICE Meets Ana Lily Amirpour and Sheila Vand
For me the director came off poorly in the extras here. She has a tough time expressing herself and finding her words in the interviews. At other times she appears very girlish and giggly. Perhaps she was nervous. She does have one bit where she tries to explain the thrill of filmmaking. She calls it athletic and brings in a Bruce Lee quote. It’s a bit muddled but her genuine enthusiasm shines through. The packaging is wonderful.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Good / Excellent