I’m not a smart guy. And by that, I mean I’m not formally educated. If there was one of those Internet Quizzes where you get to find out which WIZARD OF OZ character you were (and the law of averages says that inevitably, there must be) and I took it, I’d end up as the Scarecrow: clever but lacking formal education, and needing someone like the Wizard to give me a degree (and given the online proliferation of diploma mills, as well as websites to buy fake testimonials, medals and such, I declare that today’s Wizard of Oz is in fact Ebay).
Circumstance and a lack of discipline has meant I missed out on a formal education, and that most of what I know past the high school level is self-taught, even about things I enjoy, like cinema. Not just the mainstream giants like Hitchcock, DeMille, Howard Hawks, and Fritz Lang, or the lesser giants like Alex Cox, Abel Ferrara, Terry Gilliam and David Lynch, but the independents, the arthouse crowd like Jarmusch, Rollin, Jodorowsky, Truffaut (I know, I know, I’ve left so many out of each of these lists, get to the buffet table and help yourself to a serving of So Sue Me).
With regards to the last group, I find myself perched between an appreciation of their emphasis of the lyrical beauty over linear narrative, and a need for conventional structure (and boobs and bombs. Most films can be improved with these). I confess I usually don’t fully grasp what goes on in some of these offerings, but then maybe that’s the point, that not everything has to be spoon-fed to the audience and that there’s room for interpretation?
Watching Iranian-American writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT made me feel like I was watching something from Jarmusch or early Lynch, and not just because it was in black and white and had a cool soundtrack. It’s a self-described “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western” that made its début at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, and which was also based on a previous short film she wrote and directed with the same title, which won Best Short Film at the 2012 Noor Iranian Film Festival.
A GIRL… opens in a town we learn later is nicknamed Bad City, a desert town where surrounding oil derricks pump ceaselessly night and day, a mix of suburban California (shot in Taft, California) and post-revolutionary Iran, where Fifties cars drive past ravines filled with bodies that no one seems to notice let alone question. The place is a strange mix of Eastern and Western cultures, where everyone speaks Farsi but dances to punk, where women wear chadors along with their skinny jeans and the few inhabitants we see are pimps, junkies or hoodlums.
Among the last of these is Arash (Arash Marandi), a guy who models himself after James Dean. His widower father Hossein (Marshall Manesh) is a heroin addict who harasses local prostitute Atti (Mozhan Marno), who already gets enough bad attention from her pimp Saeed (Dominic Rains), a leather-clad local gangster with a mass of neck tattoos. Probably the most decent character is a skateboard-carrying street urchin (Milad Eghbali), who witnesses the arrival of the newest inhabitant of Bad City: the Woman (Sheila Vand, ARGO), clad in the aforementioned chador as she witnesses all the interconnected stories among the locals.
Finally she approaches Saeed, letting him take her home, where he tries his level best to be seductive – and then gets an appendage bit off for his efforts (no, you pervs, it was a finger). The Woman reveals retractable fangs as she feasts on what’s left of Saeed. Arash finds what’s left, choosing to steal the gangster’s cash and drugs in order to help fund his escape from this place, and at a costume party later (where he dresses up as Dracula), he meets the Woman…
Amirpour claims she found her inspiration for GIRL thanks to two of the childhood pasttimes she’d adopted after her family migrated from London to Florida in the early Eighties. The more the kids at school teased the youngster about her accent, the more she searched for a way to define herself outside of being “the other.” (A fan club for SUPERMAN II’s General Zod was a start, but she and the other members weren’t sure what to do beyond writing out a Kryptonian manifesto and burying it in the backyard.) So filmmaking became an early outlet, and soon afterwards her calling.
Not much actually happens in A GIRL… and not just in terms of plot, but in the scenes themselves. Characters will often sit or stand for long moments, their expressions revealing more than words. And except for the scene with the finger (that the Woman draws seductively out of her mouth after she’s bitten it off) there is no violence or gore to speak of. But the movie is gorgeous, in its stark monochrome look (now I’m reminded of Michael Almereyda’s NADJA, or Abel Ferrara’s THE ADDICTION, both also black-and-white offerings about vampires in modern times)
Amirpour definitely has talent, and knows how to play with the conventions (The Woman’s chador is cape-like, and in one scene where she steals the Urchin’s skateboard and playfully sails down the street – performed by skateboard enthusiast Amirpour herself in long shot – the cape becomes bat wings). There’s also an obvious feminist slant, in that her victims are only the men who abuse the women around them, and there’s the fact that with the Eastern setting and motifs there are preconceptions (at least among Western sensibilities) that woman under this regime are subject to oppression (of course, we all know women are never harassed or oppressed in the West).
Vand has a hypnotic screen presence, and shares a chemistry with Marandi’s character of Arash, both of them outsiders wanting more than what they have. And Amirpour manages to create scenes of lyrical menace (in one scene, she stalks a potential victim by mirroring their every move from across the street, like some fucked up Marx Brothers sequence, creating a sequence that is both funny and frightening). It’s certainly too offbeat for mainstream tastes, and may not even achieve cult status the way LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and others like it have, but A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT can boast of being a well-made, original offering to the genre.
The movie is available now on DVD and VOD, and the trailer is below.
Director/writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars
Gore: 1 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. Fangs for reading!