A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
Available on Download from 20th July 2015 and on DVD and Blu-Ray from 27th July 2015
In the unlikely event that anybody were to ask me my favourite black and white Iranian-feminist-horror-romantic-western I’d tell them it’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Shot on a shoestring budget (and actually in America), Amirpour’s debut feature film is likely to go down as a cult hit for this unique mission statement alone.
As its name would suggest, Bad City is not a nice place. Not far beneath the surface of this ghost town dwells an underbelly of drugs, prostitution and criminality. In each run-down house there exists a different story of violence and deprivation. Yet, like the no-thrills title anticipates, very little actually happens in this movie. Arash (Marandia) is a hardworking and down on his luck social conservative (though extremely handsome) with a heroin addict as a dad. And when she isn’t listening to retro disco/pop records The Girl (Vand) stalks the streets on a skateboard, wearing a hijab and finding male victims to prey upon. Indeed, from this minimal premise spawns the bulk of the movie. It’s almost an hour in before the two leads even meet (with Arash high on ecstasy and humorously dressed as Dracula), and from there their courtship sees them share less than a handful of brief scenes. Prior to that we have a fight over a car, some dancing and the odd vampire bit. The dialogue remains sparse throughout, with the backing stories staying minimal and what romance there is very subtly played. Yet this does not mean you’ll be bored by it. For the most part the atmosphere is contagious and even without understanding them the actors will hold your attention.
Some critics alluded to Let The Right One In (albeit, by way of Tarantino), owing to its similar themes of loneliness, abandonment and unexpected romance. Though this easy comparison would be slightly misleading. Despite its setting AGWHAAN is a much colder film and, even as the love story develops, it is devoid of sentimentality. Secondly, LTROI’s childhood idealism is countered by a cynical but passionate youth romance. Thirdly, the horror scenes in this one are a lot less overt than the already understated Scandinavian classic. And fourthly, in terms of presentation there really is no comparison. AGWHAAM is a technical tour de force. The derelict landscape manages to be both beautiful and completely dispiriting. While the shots are wide screen and held very long, though they are anything but monotonous. Rather they are highly detailed and bursting with vibrancy. The soundtrack is also first rate, effortlessly fusing a range of Iranian rock, synth and spaghetti western.
However, the key beats it doesn’t get right are the all-important heart ones, which LTROI got so very right. Yes, I was transfixed to the screen for much of it, though towards the end I was at a loss as to why the film wasn’t shorter. As it goes on the movie’s scant narrative becomes repetitive and at times felt like an hour long piece that had been dragged out. In terms of substance some of the commentary about how the traditional society views women was fairly interesting (a highlight sees The Girl threaten a small child into acting like a ‘good boy’), as was a moral conundrum raised towards the end. Unfortunately neither point felt particularly developed despite the laboured running time. And absence of plot does not necessitate a lack of characterisation. Yet come the credits I didn’t find myself particularly invested in either of the two leads or what happened to them. Scenes that should have had an impact felt emotionally flat, and in this respect much of the film’s contents will be forgettable even if their exhibition is not. Make no mistake, this is an accomplished piece of work though it’s one I really want to like more than I actually did. And as such, should the subgenre catch on I don’t know how long this’ll remain my favourite black and white Iranian-feminist-horror-romantic-western.