A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – Instant Reprise

Sheila Vand as 'The Girl'

Sheila Vand as ‘The Girl’

Keith was not very impressed with this film and some of his observations in the previous post seem justified. Overall though I think he’s being a bit harsh on the young Iranian-American writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour (who was born in Margate, going to the US as a small child). I was going to just add a comment but I think that there is quite a lot to say.

First, this isn’t a ‘Hollywood’ film – in many ways it is almost the definitive American ‘indie’ film, developed from an earlier short (that was shown in Iran, I think). Second, I have to disagree with Keith about the location. If I understand him correctly, he says the setting could be like downtown Detroit (tying in with a reference to Jarmusch’s recent Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)). I agree on Jarmusch (but with reference to his early black and white features) but the setting of Amirpour’s film is very distinctive. The fictional location is ‘Bad City’ in Iran but it was shot in the small town of Taft in the Californian oilfields. Amirpour went to school in the nearest large town of Bakersfield. There are two specific ways in which the location contributes to the meaning of the filmic narrative space. The ‘nodding donkeys’ or ‘pumpjacks’ that litter the oilfield appear several times and are perhaps an ironic reference to Iranian oil. The ‘cowboy’ mystique is visually signified by a woman dancing and wearing a classic cowboy shirt, but it is also signified by some of the music (three or four tracks by Federale) which in turn refers to spaghetti Westerns and is ‘Tarantinoesque’. (Country music fans will also know that the ‘Bakersfield sound’ of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard represented an alternative to Nashville in the 1960s and 1970s, replacing syrupy strings with twangin’ guitars.)

I’m probably pushing this too much but I’d also connect the James Dean look of the lead male character with his 1957 convertible to Dean’s appearance in a film like Giant (1956) (i.e in the oilfields), though his white tee-shirt and leather jacket suggest Rebel Without a Cause. Keith’s right of course that the whole film is more about style than narrative drive. I felt compelled by the style to think of other films – A Touch of Evil (1957) for instance, or, in the closing scenes with the headlights on the road, Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Keith mentions Persepolis (France/US 2007) which makes sense as the Ana Lily Amirpour orginally wrote the story as a graphic novel. Sin City (US 2005) would be another possible reference point as a noirish graphic novel adaptation.

What there is of narrative development seems to take a great deal from Let the Right One In (Sweden 2008) or, as Mark Kermode suggests, from Near Dark (US 1987). In terms of building a story A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night doesn’t use these influences particularly well, but in its slow, mesmeric way it creates relationships and images which certainly resonated with me long after the film was over. I thought that Sheila Vand who plays the title role was particularly good and the concept of a vampire clad in a chador skateboarding down the road is sheer genius. In her room the girl plays 1980s music. In various YouTube clips the director explains that the posters in her room were ‘modified’ images of Madonna and the Bee Gees because the budget wouldn’t run to rights for the real posters. This is very much a ‘personal film’ and I recommend the YouTube collection of videos as an interesting set of source materials (check out the various songs as well – the soundtrack of music and effects is one of the strengths of the film and includes Iranian/Middle Eastern rock). Maybe the film is 5-10 minutes too long but the pacing worked for me and I’d recommend giving it a go.

(The entire film is delivered in Farsi – which the director has said she can only write phonetically, making constructing the script difficult. Farsi speakers may find it odd for this reason, but the English subs work well!)

An HD trailer:

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4 comments

  1. Stephen Gott

    I had mixed feelings adout this film, when I saw it a few weeks back. In the end, I decided it was an interesting first feature. As has already been said, it uses and blends horror, noir and western motifs. It also references several earlier movies.You mentioned Arash looking like James Dean and I’d like to add the Girl at times looks like Anna Karina,in a Godard film.
    Finally,I’d like to pick up on a couple of themes that I think are important in the film. There’s a definite feminist element in the film in the way the women are treated by the men and portray themselves. The Girl herself wears both traditional and Western dress. Significantly wearing a black chador, when taking her revenge on the bad men of Bad City.
    The second point I would like to make, is in a way linked to the first. Just as the men are I’ll treating the women.In an environmental way, Man is ill-treating Mother Earth. In the shots of the oilfields, we see his rape of the land and how he is sucking the resources out of the earth.
    So maybe, like Clint Eastwood in the “High Plains Drifter” (1973), the Girl is taking revenge on all bad men, by sucking the Life Blood out of their bodies.

    • Roy Stafford

      I hadn’t thought of Anna Karina or of the environmental angle but they are interesting angles to explore.

      Re the feminist discourse, I did think about that but I concluded that in some ways it was less about what ‘the Girl’ did in the narrative and more about the success of another young female director in creating a horror film. The references to Near Dark are important here since it is the romance with as the girl as the vampire which is important rather than as the submissive woman in the Twilight films (though the first of those, with Catherine Hardwicke as director, is perhaps still progressive).

  2. Rona

    Amirpour has certainly watched her early (and later) Jarmusch – it made me think of ‘Permanent Vacation’ in some ways in the relationship of the protagonists (since the use of black and white is very different). I think it is most Lynchian in the soundscape, which recalls that boiler noise that runs disturbingly in the background of ‘Eraserhead.’ Of course, it has resonances with Johnathan Glazer’s ‘Under the Skin.’ I think, to respond to Stephen’s point above, it’s interesting how those two films play with the idea of poetic justice. Obviously, we rather approve of Amirpour’s vampire’s first kill, but (as in Glazer’s film) her choices become more morally complex. I really enjoyed the blending of genres and of cultures, especially through the iconography and the way in which the seventies/early eighties (through the posters and some of the music here) becomes intertwined into vampire culture. That the posters are ones you remember (if of a certain age) and then aren’t quite right added to a sense of this being a no-man’s-land (very much a trope in Jarmusch’s ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’) in terms of time as well as place, and of all of these characters being ghosts in their own lives. None of these characters appear to go out in the daytime.The commitment to the slow pace and lack of plot added to the feeling of unnatural suspension and film seemed quite assured, to me, in deciding to explore that mood rather than accelerate through genre plot. I understand the reference to ‘Near Dark’ – especially in the opening sequences with Mae and Caleb which keep to a similar slow pace and surreal, night-time atmosphere. However, I do think the rest of that film goes in a very different direction. I loved the use of black and white cinematography and the repeated use of overt shifts in focus, which distorted shapes and added to the tension between characters in the frame. Its humour – the skateboarding sequences were genius – and its humanity (its sympathetic hero was, after all, prey to other would-be ‘vampires’ and manipulators) were still present despite its stylisation. I notice Elijah Wood is credited – another Hollywood actor building his production credentials in American Indie, including specialising in horror films.

    • Roy Stafford

      Elijah Wood appears in one of the YouTube interviews.

      I think these are all great points and make me want to see the film again. It also strikes me that this would be an excellent film for students. I really like your comments about Under the Skin and the ‘moral complexity’ of the choice of victims does indeed tie up with Stephen’s point. But this is also true of Let the Right One In which to me still stands as the richest/most complex vampire narrative I’ve seen in the last ten years. I’m thinking of the victims in the two films like the dealer/the bullies, the drifters, the father/the ‘helper’ etc.

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