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A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014):
Directed & Written by Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh & Mozhan Marno

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night has many unique and interesting descriptors: it sits somewhere between retro horror, romance, and thriller; it’s a new-school, quite worthwhile vampire movie; it’s from an exciting new director and writer who happens to be female, it’s in Persian; and it’s shot in black and white with more black than white. It loves the dark, and it uses the darkness well. Most of all, it stays with you and seems certain to inspire other young people to take up their film cameras and write new and original films, which is something very much needed in the world when even top film schools are cutting back on practical experience for aspiring filmmakers.

This is the type of film that is best under-served as far as disclosing plot details in a film review. It’s also rather minimalist in the dialogue, in a way that is quite effective. It’s entirely different in its execution and look, and tone, but in some ways shares the less-is more approach with another film about a mysterious female, 2013’s Under The Skin. That film was a gem that did not get nearly enough love and so, has become a cult classic.  If you saw and liked it and the way it unfolds than this film is for you. At first I thought the film had become a bit too over hyped-“The best vampire film ever made” but upon  reflection, I realized that indie, quality, films such as this one need all the hype from all the corners they can get just to find the audiences they so deserve. A film that can say something fresh about one of the most over-baked and yet beloved genres as vampire lore ought to be shouted from the roof tops in every crumbling city of the globe.

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The central character is Arash (Arash Marandi) who has real, old fashioned leading man looks that the choice of black and white film makes radiant. Through some clever details such as a great vintage car and a simple upturned collar, Arash delivers  a James Dean vibe, something often attempted but almost never executed this well. Arash is a young man trying to negotiate life in Bad City, a desolate landscape filled with crumbling structures and just a few people around who are, at first, all cinematic archetypes. There’s a pimp, there’s a prostitute, there’s a junkie, there’s a kid, and all are fending for themselves. There’s also a strange girl (of the title, played by Sheila Vand) who intersects with each of these figures as she walks alone through the endless nights of Bad City.

The homages and references to other great outsider filmmakers are at first, a little on the nose. We see a bit of Jarmusch and a good helping of Lynch, the Tarantino kind of western, as well as nods to Italian Neo-Realism, The French New Wave, and The Iranian New Wave cinema. There’s also a bit of the very best of John Hughes, if you can imagine it. But as the film starts to find its groove, it’s clear that the tipping of the hat to those film movements is never a bad thing when it’s done with such love and produces something so new out of all that history. For we have here, in fact, the first “Iranian Vampire Western” (and more, besides). We have this quiet, instantly memorable image of a strange, sad girl in a hijab on a skateboard in the empty nighttime streets. Like all girls, she’s a contradiction: she wants to be invisible, cloaked in darkness, and yet she needs to be seen, by the right person in the safe space of love. We have a scene that offers a new, and perfectly lovely, take on vampire eroticism that is done to perfection without any blood or gore, and almost without touching, set to a perfect retro-sounding but new song that demands to be sought out… and when’s the last time you watched the credits to guess at a new song you’ve discovered?

Amirpour takes the tropes and images of key genres, cultures, and point of views she’s interested in exploring and she mixes them up in a new way. This is a capable indie writer/director who’s filming circles around so many bloated, poorly written, wastefully expensive Hollywood films. Her own POV is enhanced further by the possibilities offered by our current culture of the internet that contains wormholes of independent study of all kinds of film, from all eras, from around the world, all at once, for the curious and the devout.

Bad City, the film’s backdrop, is almost like a play with a few characters and key sets, but through the camera lens we become fascinated with these characters’ backstories and futures, as some remain unreadable and others contain deep wells of wordless feeling. The acting of the leads, as well as the little boy, is truly naturalistic and creates a very rare sense of youthful hope, attraction and fascination against all odds and viewer experience that has us, so often, tuning out of the usual meet-cute or generic love scenes. Using the shadows and the streetlights, the veil and the reveal of the person beneath it, Aminpour creates an indelible new image of an entirely original leading lady that skates on in the imagination long after the film ends. By Step On Magazine Editors

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Side note: This cat, Masuka, deserves special mention for some great “CA-cting”.