Studio: Kino Lorber
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Producer: Justin Begnaud, Sina Sayyah
Stars: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Mozhan Marno, Marshall Manesh, Dominic Rains, Milad Eghbali, Rome Shadanloo, Reza Sixo Safai
A poor man and a mysterious girl make an unexpected connection to one another against the backdrop of an Iranian ghost town.
Among commonly used sound bites of criticism I prefer to avoid, “not for everyone” ranks in the top ten, below “tour de force” but above “doesn’t bring anything new to the table.” They’re all overused and of limited value. Yet the negative nature of “not for everyone” suggests the absurd possibility that a movie could actually be considered “for everyone.” As if you could find a universally applauded film without a single naysayer objecting to its content on personally unappealing grounds.
Try as I might, a quick search shows I have still used “not for everyone” in a half dozen other reviews. Sometimes the shoe is perfectly sized to the foot, I suppose, as it certainly is here.
If any film earns application of the phrase, it’s Ana Lily Amirpour’s “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” By inherent virtue in essentially every element, a black and white arthouse piece melding disparate genres and spoken in Farsi ostensibly begs to be the defining example of why we use “not for everyone” to describe a film.
Arash’s meager existence in imaginary Iranian ghost town ‘Bad City,’ a place populated by prostitutes, vagrants, and street urchins (or rather, one of each), has a lone bright spot: a cherry condition classic car that took him six years to save for. It’s going away though. Arash’s father Hossein, a heroin junkie, owes drug-dealing pimp Saeed money the men don’t have, so Saeed is helping himself to the car.
Arash’s payment plan to get his ride back involves stealing earrings from the sultry socialite he does odd jobs for. Earrings in hand, Arash heads for Saeed’s place and things take an unexpected turn.
Outside the house, Arash sees an unknown girl in a chador walking away into the night. Inside, Arash finds Saeed’s corpse, along with a full case of money and drugs on a table. In one moment, Arash has his cash flow issues resolved, although this becomes but the first time his path crosses with the murderous mystery girl’s in unanticipated fashion.
I’d say “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is the fractured love story of Arash and ‘The Girl,’ whose name is never revealed, two dark souls struggling for human connection, even though one of them is not human, against a backdrop of poverty and despair. Except that implies “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” features a traditional story, and is driven by linear narrative, and neither of those things is true.
“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” operates on an engine of ideas, and some of those ideas must come from the viewer to infer meaning from the mood. The script is light on dialogue. Most of the movie is constructed from moments, not really full scenes, but from long, lingering looks into this world and at these characters captured by a camera that is often as still as the energy onscreen.
Perhaps it is appropriate, seeing as how the titular girl is a part-time vampire, that the movie is as draining as a bite to the neck. Unconcerned with rhythm, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” bathes in a pop art lethargy that makes the maudlin melancholy of Jim Jarmusch’s similarly-dry “Only Lovers Left Alive” (review here) look blisteringly kinetic by comparison.
In addition to being “not for everyone,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” exemplifies what we talk about when we talk about style trumping substance. Emphasis is on atmosphere, ambiguity, mesmeric visuals, cinematic experimentation, and artful dreaminess. In short, this is the type of motion picture that goes over like gangbusters at film festivals priding themselves on interpretive material from unconventional global filmmakers, yet mainstream audiences have little use for.
Academic opinions have fawned over the film, hailing it as everything from a daring voice’s calling card to a modern masterpiece of essential vampire fiction. Counterpoints argue that the vampire theme is entirely irrelevant. Sold as a bold vision of horror, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” merges more from coming of age comedies, smoky film noir, dirty spaghetti westerns, and avant garde indie drama than it draws from bloodsucker creature features.
In cases like this, “not for everyone” is the polite substitute for recognizing artistic merit while simultaneously acknowledging narrow narrative appeal. Like a concubine under Dracula’s sway, one can become transfixed by the film’s piercing stare, capable of commanding attention and making time seemingly stand still. Break free from that gaze however, and you may come to discover that the illusion, no matter how sweeping in the moment, is a skeletal construct of the imagination, existing only within the mind.
Review Score: 55