A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

*****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Sheila Vand and Marshall Manesh in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
"An astonishing début that marks out Ana Lily Amirpour as an extraordinary directorial talent."

Until recently, Iranian cinema has had a reputation for producing stunningly beautiful but excruciatingly slow dramas, with rare exceptions like A Separation earning approbation at home even whilst being feted abroad. This year has seen everything change, with an explosion of new talent manifesting through genre films like the widely celebrated Fish And Cat. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is the most impressive yet, an astonishing début that marks out Ana Lily Amirpour as an extraordinary directorial talent.

Set in the mysterious Bad City (the puns work the same way in Persian and English), this is a story of lost souls who could be anywhere, and indeed Amirpour herself is English-born and now based in California. It's an industrial cityscape whose rhythmic mechanical motions recall the work of Fritz Lang and David Lynch, yet which blend into the whole thanks to languorous photography reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick and Bernardo Bertolucci. We see intimate spaces, contrasting homes: the hero's empty living room, where his junkie father lies moaning on the floor; a drug dealer's flashy pad, decked up like an advert; the heroine's basement, lined with posters, full of the personality she does her best to suppress in person. "I've done bad things," she says at one point, and we are reminded of Blade Runner's Roy Baty. There's something about her that doesn't seem right, but underneath her burka she can move around the dark streets like a ghost, with no-one noticing. Not until she takes an interest in them - for good or ill.

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This is a film that has already attracted some bizarre descriptions. Perhaps it's Iran's first skateboarding vampire western. Perhaps it's a romcom, but the romance is heartbreaking and the comedy is very black indeed. There's an intensity to it rarely found anywhere in contemporary cinema, an absolute certainty of purpose. Jay Nierenberg's sound work is superb and Amirpour knows exactly how to use it, sometimes creating the illusion that we, the viewers, and drifting in and out of consciousness, immersed in a kind of cinema that has remembered how to be a dream. Our two central protagonists stumble through it, struggling to control what happens in their lives. For most of their scenes together, Sheila Vand and Arash Marandi are almost mute, but they have powerful chemistry. Between and around them slinks a beautiful cat (loaned by producer Sina Sayyah) with a pivotal role to play.

As a vampire film, this shakes up the genre like Abel Ferrara's The Addiction, and there are natural parallels between the cravings of the heroine and of the hero's father, but the supernatural element is almost beside the point. There are all sorts of transgressions on display here, reminding us of what really goes on in cities everywhere, no matter the laws that officially govern them. In an underground dancehall people dress and dance as they please, and there are hints of the old queer culture Iran has spent a century trying to suppress. In the streets a tired sex worker takes a beating from her pimp and drifts toward worse. A boy plays alone, watching everyone, trying to make sense of a world without direction.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is one of those rare pieces of cinema that seems to transcend not just genre but the form itself. It leaves one struggling to breathe.

Reviewed on: 27 Nov 2014
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A lonely vampire and a young man exhausted by caring for his father come together in a nightmare city.
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Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour

Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marnò, Dominic Rains, Rome Shadanloo, Milad Eghbali, Reza Sixo Safai, Pej Vahdat

Year: 2014

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: US


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