Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 02, 2014 4:38 pm 
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A self-conscious vampire movie, in Farsi

In striking black and white, the American-based Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour's debut future is an unusual vampire picture heavy on the downbeat hipster atmosphere. This got plenty of favorable mentions and some raves when it debuted at Sundance 2014. However it is really a very modest beginning, though a stylish one, and it surely is overshadowed by Jim Jarmusch's lush, atmospheric, beautiful (if ultimately uninvolving) Last Lovers on Earth. To me A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night seemed somewhat like a music video without the music, or an introduction that dragged on too long. The molasses-in-January movement in scenes may seem hypnotic, or just dragged-out. Much sympathy for the genre twisting is a prerequisite for appreciation.

The film does have faith in its convictions, never fails to compose its shots carefully, and makes the most of its key characters and props, notably a beautiful vintage Ford Thunderbird and a cat. In keeping with the early Sixties look the boy interest, Arash (Arash Marandi), owner of the car, wears wavy dark hair, jeans and a tight white T shirt. The car is taken away by evil tattooed drug dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains) to pay for product supplied to the boy's addict father Hossein (Marshall Manesh).

The Girl (Sheila Vand), the lonely street-wandering, skateboard-riding, hijab wearing vampire or Nosferata of Bad City, a location Guy Lodge in Variety called "an imaginary Iranian underworld" (there might be livelier real ones), is destined to take care of Saeed posthaste. He makes the mistake of assuming he can abuse her as he does the aging prostitute (Mozhan Marno) whom he occasionally pimps out on the dark empty streets. Subsequently The Girl and Arash develop a love interest -- thus as in the Twilight series constituting a mixed normal and undead couple whose future is uncertain. Their tender relationship is shown coming into being when out in the darkness instead of baring her teeth at Arash, The Girl lets him pierce her ears so she can wear earrings he has given her -- possibly an oddly traditional female, passive scene given the vampire girl's previous gestures for women's rights.

Unlike Let the Right One In, which Lodge mentions as a vampire movie that has more mainstream potential (and did get a decent Hollywood remake), this new film doesn't cross over from its genre mashup ponderousness, which mixes self-conscious mood with feminism, David Lynch, and spaghetti Westerns. It seems sometimes about to launch into a schtick out of early Jarmusch at some points, and its use of loud musical transitions could owe something to Tarantino; except that there is not enough use made of dialogue for that, and all the talk is, besides, in Farsi.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an odd mixture culturally and geographically. It is set in Tehran, its dialogue is in the language of that country and it clearly has an interest in the changing status of women there. But it was shot in California, with cramped interiors and cold industrial streets and an electrical power station that do not look at all like Iran. Doubtless Amirppour shows courage and independence in welding together such a unique mixture and getting it shown at Sundance, and the number of major publications that have published favorable reviews indicates that we'll hear from her again. Part of her promise is indicated by her ability to put together a polished looking and sounding package marked by the striking cinematography of Lyle Vincent and sound design by Jay Nierenberg that's precise and enjoyable.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night 107 mins., debuted in the Next series at Sundance January 2014. It was screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art series, New Directors/New Films, scheduled there for Wednesday, March 19, 7:00pm & 8:00pm at MoM. Elijah Wood is a producer. Limited US theatrical release 21 Nov. 2014 (NYC); Bay Area, 5 Dec.

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