A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Profoundly hyped. Critically acclaimed. Seemingly ambitious.

Profoundly hyped. Critically acclaimed. Seemingly ambitious.

Director/Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Staring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh
Cinematography: Lyle Vincent

Here’s how this film got me into the theater. It sported gorgeous black and white photography, was filmed in Farsi, and was a vampire art-house flick. Behind it was the apparently unstoppable hype machine powered by Vice Films (and Kino Lorber, usually a distributor worth watching) who promoted the picture beyond its actual appeal, in part with a dishonestly paced trailer. The ingredients sounded amazing. It was the perfect bait.

But there’s simply no there there. The marketed hallmarks that made it seem different turn out to mean nothing.

Sheila Vand is beautiful and mysterious and fun to watch. Despite having virtually nothing to do.

Sheila Vand is beautiful and mysterious and fun to watch despite having virtually nothing to do.

Yes, it’s in Farsi, but it’s culturally void of anything Iranian beyond that. It’s actually filmed in Bakersfield, California. and while Bakersfield comes off as starkly cinematic, the whole endeavor feels extremely western. So if you’re going to catch a glimpse into an under-represented culture, you’re not getting that here. It’s cool that there are some great roles for Farsi speaking American actors, but it means nothing and serves nothing. Even if it had taken place inside the persian community in Bakersfield that would have been interesting enough, but that’s not the case. This is a fictional, western-pulp style Iran community called “Bad Town” and it sets up a whole series of creative decisions made for their cool factor rather than for any deeper purpose.

Yes, it’s an art house flick, but it’s least ambitious kind. It celebrates style over substance. It’s about nothing. It assumes that disaffection equals cool and chooses aesthetic principles over theme at every turn. It takes stabs at greatness, imitating some of the giants of the Nouvelle Vague, Post Punk and No Wave cinema (others have cited Spaghetti Westerns as an influence, but that’s only on the soundtrack) but when all you have is image and music, unsupported by character or theme, you miss what makes the greats great in the first place.

Bakersfield, California comes off as a character all its own to great effect.

Bakersfield, California comes off as a character all its own to great effect.

Yes. It’s a vampire movie. And the lead is affecting and beautiful, but it’s yet another “cool” vampire narrative so soon after the great Jarmusch gave us much of the same with LAST LOVERS LEFT ALIVE. But Jarmusch is a much more seasoned filmmaker who is able, even in his most non-narrative attempts, to place emphasis on style AND character AND theme. LAST LOVERS LEFT ALIVE. LOVERS is more than a music video or a tonal exercise, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT isn’t, and it doesn’t aspire to be. It’s also not scary or creepy, which it obviously doesn’t have to be, I’m fine with its tone, just don’t go in expecting a horror film. Even still, I do long for the days of a good scary vampire movie.

And so that leaves us only with the gorgeous photography by Lyle Vincent, which, quite frankly, saves the whole flick. Without it this would be an intolerable bore featuring a few really strong cinematic moments. But every shot is truly a joy and the film relies on it almost completely. If you love beautiful cinematography, than that’s it’s saving grace.

Other bright spots. The music is excellent throughout. Sometimes it rises to even greater heights than the sequence it’s supposed to be supporting, but unquestionably, the director uses music to great affect. There are some really nice little moments sprinkled throughout. The final and climactic death is an especially beautifully done piece of filmmaking and the two leads are lovely and fun to watch in their few scenes together.

Arash Marandi and Sheila Vand in one of the films best sequences.

Arash Marandi and Sheila Vand in one of the films best sequences.

But in the end the movie is more tedious than meditative. It’s pretty obvious it was a short film first, now stretched out beyond its means. I love the cinema of the slow, but I have to have something to contemplate if a long languid shot is to have any real hold over me. There must be something underneath the image and the music, I must feel that there is some meaning in the exercise, or at the very least that I’m seeing something fresh and different. And here there is no meaning, or if there is it’s surface and barely qualifies. There’s nothing really new here at all, actually. The parts seem unique but the whole is tired.

I will, however, be snooping around Amirpour’s future films in the hopes that her aesthetic will one day find an engine of purpose and that her cinema will have something unique to say.

Here’s the trailer, cut specifically to betray the tone of the film itself…

Posted on by Joshua Dysart Posted in Film & TV, Journal

Add a Comment