‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Stars: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi
4 (out of 5) Globes
“A Girl Walks Home a Night” is more than just an Iranian feminist vampire Western romance. It has fatty chunks of David Lynch in it, along with Sergio Leone, Jim Jarmusch, Alejandro Jodorowsky and probably some Abbas Kiarostami too, plus a Nicolas Winding Refn-like love for ’80s synth pop. (Its chief bloodsucker is probably the first of her kind to have the poster for Madonna’s debut album on her wall.) It’s shot in a high contrast black-and-white so reminiscent of Frank Miller’s “Sin City” that one wishes the franchise wasn’t dead so first-time feature filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour could direct the third one. It’s derivative of so many things that of course it’s original.
That’s not a glib line: Like Quentin Tarantino — who gets namechecked on some of the tees she wears on interviews — Amirpour knows that picking the right ingredients makes for a unique and scrumptious stew. Set in an Iranian ghost town called Bad City — actually just a spooky desert town in California — it tells of one credited simply as “The Girl” (Sheila Vand, who had a small but crucial role in “Argo”), who skulks about the bare nighttime streets, sometimes minding her own business, other times laying waste to woman-hating creeps. Her chador is both a symbol of oppression and her superhero cape; sometimes she cruises about on her skateboard.
Her token human love object gets a more bizarre screen name than her: billed as “The Persian James Dean” (Arash Marandi), he’s a dreamer whose dad (Marshall Manesh) is a gambler and junkie, in debt to a pimp (Dominic Rains), who’s so evil he has the word “sex” embroidered across his neck. It’s not long before this baddie runs afoul of our hero, though it takes awhile for she and The Persian James Dean to cross paths.
In fact, one of the main accomplishments of “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is its hypnotic slowness — slow like “Eraserhead”-era Lynch, yes, but also like Bela Tarr or certain Rainer Werner Fassbinder. (The dialogue is as conservatively sprinkled as it was in “The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant.”) People barely move, often standing in place, as though we were staring at a photo on a wall — a beautiful photo, hanging in a gallery. (This might be hyperbole, but nevertheless, every shot has been aggressively thought-out.) When they finally move they sometimes do it as though in super slo-mo — a trick that comes in handy during one suspenseful moment that could result in a neck dive or mere necking (or simply a hug). Despite the Vice distribution credit, this is as much for genre fanboys as glacial cinema devotees.
Setting any film in Iran can only politicize it, and Amirpour gladly allows this to turn into a “Ms. 45” for the Muslim world, with her vampire taking out men who abuse women, or worse. It’s not only political; our protagonist eats up more than just sexist males, and she’s much happier chilling in her apartment listening to a variety of super-cool music than taking out bros. That “Girl” is not as political as it could have been is good and less good. Amirpour avoids a lot rookie mistakes (she’s spent years racking up a list of shorts). But it still feels a touch too modest than it should be. The romance seems pat, barely enough to fill out a John Hughes film (surely another of Amirpour’s faves). It’ll be interesting when its budding director feels confident to follow her emotions as bravely as she does her influences.