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Film Review of ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’
If a black and white Farsi-language film sounds like a chore, think again. Despite a strong aesthetic debt to 1960s European cinema, this debut from Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour is as fresh and pop culture-ready as any attention-deficient popcorn muncher has the right to hope for.
Bad girl in the ‘Bad City’
We meet Arash (Marandi), a classically cool James Dean-alike, in sunglasses, white tie and (presumably) blue denims, as he lingers about the industrialised suburban desertscape of ‘Bad City’.
Arash’s pride and joy is his beautiful vintage automobile, which we learn is the product of 2,191 days hard graft. Not long after, Saeed (Rains), the local pimp and pusher, takes Arash’s car as collateral against the debt he’s owed by Arash’s junkie father. Meanwhile, a sinister unnamed girl (Vand) stalks the streets at night in full chador (a head-to-toe Muslim veil that frames the face), preying on male wrong-doers. She soon crosses paths with Saeed and Arash.
Metaphor in the material
The deserted streets of Bad City appear to be home to very few inhabitants but of those we see, the males are of questionable morality and the women are forced to operate under the heavy restrictions placed upon them by casual chauvinism and frequent cruelty – there’s even a (presumably) state-sponsored television broadcast that constantly re-enforces gender stereotypes.
There’s no doubt then, in this context, that the girl in the chador represents a form of female empowerment, a much needed defender of those for whom no other salvation exists. Like the film’s title, the chador is deliberately misleading: a costume of sorts that hides her true nature and allows her to navigate this male world, silently going about her business. Only the giant bowing oil pumps, similarly vampiric as they bleed the earth dry, bear witness to her nightly justice.
Homage, humour, her own
Amirpour herself has clearly fed on the blood of Jean-Luc Godard, Sergio Leone and Aki Kaurismäki in bringing this work to us – but in doing so, she’s created an American-Iranian vampire western that is really all its own.
The gorgeously stark black and white photography recalls George Romero’s own 1968 debut Night of the Living Dead, but the subject matter more closely resembles his under-appreciated Martin, a film featuring an ambiguous vampirism (rather than outright vampires) set in suburban America, which often gets overlooked due to the popularity of Romero’s Dead series.
Beyond any of that though, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is fun. There’s a surprising amount of humour, delivered with an infectious youthful zest and a genuinely sweet nature.
A large part of the film’s appeal is also its music. Like Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese before her, Amirpour has not only assembled her film influences into something truly memorable, but she’s also compiled an iconic soundtrack too, which like the Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting soundtracks will no doubt be heard in many student bedrooms.
Her film deserves instant cult status and Ana Lily Amirpour has marked herself out as a talent to be watched. Or stalked.