Saturday, September 6, 2014

Competition: Iranian vampire-thriller A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

An unconventional love story between two young people stands at the centre of the Iranian vampire-thriller A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the first competition film screened at Deauville this year. He is Arash (Arash Marandi), a good-looking, wannabe rebel in the vein of James Dean: he wears tight, short-sleeved T-shirts, driving an American car and breaks his hand punching a wall within the first five minutes. She (Sheila Vand) is a quiet girl who spends the night wandering the streets of the Iranian ghost-town Bad City at night. She is also a vampire. Once their paths cross, they form an instant, unspoken but deep, connection. Since neither of them have an awful lot to say, they bond by listening to (excellent) music.

The unnamed vampire shadows a prostitute and protects her from the misogyny she encounters in her everyday life, preying on the men who mistreat her. She is neither a malicious, nor a tortured character; she acts with completely detached passivity and seems empty like her stare. The film paints a very unflattering picture of Iranian men. The only male who manages to appeal to the girl’s emotions is Arash, who has a strongly developed sense of decency (early on, he brushes off advances from his employers’ daughter).

The intimate moments between the young leads are the strongest scenes in Ana Lily Amirpou’s very confident feature debut. She makes up for the obvious lack of funds through an intense use of sound and through the creation of striking images (a pile of dead bodies below a bridge, an extreme close-up of a cat’s eye, Arash staring blankly at a street-lamp while high…). Shot in black and white, Amirpou constantly plays with genre. It starts of as a neo-noir, turns into an exploitation flick after a detour to the spaghetti Western, before introducing more classical horror elements. The result is a pleasant mash-up and there are shades of an early Robert Rodriguez in Amirpou’s work, which feels very much like a first film (in a good and a bad way).

In terms of narrative, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night does lack a bit of focus in order to reach the heights of Only Lovers Left Alive or Let the Right One In. A subplot involving Arash’s dying junkie-father lacks urgency and emotional impact, despite a strong performance by Marshall Manesh. The acting in general is very convincing and the film will find its audiences among genre-fans, who will appreciate the committed weirdness of Amirpou's vision.

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