Monday, September 21, 2015

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
Director/Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh

The very first line line of spoken dialogue in this movie comes from a young boy, asking "Can I have some money?" Which is highly appropriate, because the director took mine. Or rather, she would have, if I had followed my initial impulse to see it in theaters instead of waiting for it to be available at the library. If I'd wasted both an evening and my money I would be quite put out, but since as it turned out I only lost 99 minutes I can't be too upset with myself.

I could easily imagine shots from A Girl Walks Home being used as the backdrop for an episode of a prime-time family sitcom. You know the episode: the wife wants to go see the new art-house film at the Historic Downtown Theatre, but her blue-collar husband doesn't like foreign movies. But not wanting to appear uncultured or xenophobic, he pays for their tickets anyway, and we get to watch him squirm in his chair as his every fear is proven right and made painfully, inescapably real. It could almost be funny, except the only genuinely funny thing in this entire movie is one brief shot of a young female vampire riding a skateboard while wearing a chador.


It feels almost like the director was trying to collect every negative stereotype of foreign films in one place. For starters, Girl is an ultra-low-budget affair, and filmed entirely in black-and-white. There are subtitles (the dialogue is all in Farsi, even though it was filmed in California). All the characters are either shallow assholes, depressed and listless, slowly losing their youth, drowning in existential ennui, dying of terminal illnesses, or already dead. The scenery is all rusting industrial complexes, deserted city streets, or squalid apartments. Not a single person in this movie is enjoying themselves, not even the vampire.

Dialogue is delivered laconically, in one- or two-word statements interspersed with several seconds of painfully awkward silence to space them out. At one point, the leading male ("Arash") makes out with the titular girl in her subterranean apartment (to the lively tune of Death by The White Lies), but the director manages to make three actions (the girl puts on a record, turns around, then they make out) take what I think was the entire five minutes that the song lasts. I get that one of the participants in this makeout session has literally all the time in the world, but there is just no way that any teenage boy could delay gratification for that long. It feels like the director found what she knew, just knew was the absolute perfect song to go with this scene, but she didn't have enough dialogue to fill  the scene and couldn't afford to bay the band to shorten it, so she just told her actors to do everything with excruciating slowness to kill time, so their actions sync up with the song.

While it's true that many real-life conversations do contain a lot more silence that we realize, the reason movies are interesting is because they cut that stuff out: they condense life into a faster-paced, better-edited version of itself.

Despite the agonizing length of this movie, almost none of that time is used to fill us in on the backstory or to give context. Near the end of the very first, scene, Arash walks past what appears to be a drainage ditch full of human bodies. This is never explained, mentioned, or commented-upon by any of the characters, not even news or radio anchors heard in passing. Except for one shot in Act III where there are a larger number of bodies in the same ditch, and one additional body is being tossed unceremoniously into it.

Girl is full of non-sequiturs, loose ends, and the unexplained. For example, the transition between Acts II and III is a two-minute sequence of a drag queen in a black cowboy-shirt ballroom dancing with a Mylar balloon in an empty, abandoned courtyard. Just like the ditch-full-of-bodies from earlier, this is also never explained, commented-upon or explored, and the drag queen is never seen or alluded to again.

This was your cue to run, bro, not to erotically stick your finger in her mouth. What did you think was going to happen?

The posters and flyers all billed this movie as "[t]he first Iranian Vampire Western ever made," but being filmed in California, even the dusty part, does not a Western make. Girl does not exist within the milieu of the Western genre; if Girl is a Western, then so is Bad Santa, which at least is set in Phoenix, AZ and featured a bank robbery (of sorts). I suspect the director was afraid that people wouldn't pay to see an Iranian-American vampire movie, so she tacked-on "Western" in a bid to make people curious and sell more tickets. And I suppose it worked, after a fashion, since I got suckered into watching it.

I went into this movie thinking that I might broaden my horizons a little, but all I got out of it was a powerful aversion to art-house films. Which is not quite the learning experience I had in mind.

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