Review: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Winter Light

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A stylish alternative for the festive season (2014)

Amidst the cloud-swept moons of crisper evenings comes Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. However, far from being the creepy slasher flick that the title evokes, the film emerges as a stunning work of art. This Wild-West inspired storyline is centred on an Iranian vampire and was produced by Elijah Wood. The movie incredibly demonstrates the transformativepower of conceptual creativity. The backdrop is the dark criminal world of the fictional ‘Bad City’, but Amirpour’s artistic vision manages to nurture a vitality that rises, overflows and saturates the whole narrative: profound thinking crafts what could otherwise be gloomy or clichéd territory into the ecosphere of a luminous dream-land. You feel not so much the warmth from a mug of hot chocolate as the buzz after a couple of shots of quality vodka!

This is hugely due to Amirpour’s fluid cinematic technique. Strong metaphors are interspersed with a literal storyline in a way that stimulates the mind into filling in the gaps; the electricity of the glowing street lamps, scattered throughout the film, poetically accentuates this. There is the loose narrative of a female vampire skulking around an ‘Iranian ghost-town’ while a potential love-story brews beneath the surface, but a fuller understanding arrives through the absorption of the striking yet visually charged imagery. The movement of the vampire protagonist, The Girl (Sheila Vand), gliding across the wall with her cloak flowing and back to the camera relays the in-depth nature of her character: through this limber and self-effacing action, we sense that this girl is not quite the savage miscreant that the townsfolk brand her as. Rather, she possesses a vulnerable philosophical dimension. As we discover, she is born into the role of a supernatural vigilante, compelled by instinct to purge the town of its evils. As opposed to the traditional imagining of a voracious soul-sucking narcissist then, Amirpour’s feminine heroine is driven towards empathetically restoring the social pitfalls of her universe.

Far from being hard work, the exploration of meditative subject matter is an exhilarating experience. Slick and mesmerizing, the aesthetic beauty works alongside the intellectual intensity so that you are not so much navigating as intuiting through the whole story: much like the sensitive yet powerful heroine herself. There is emotional titillation: claustrophobia, melancholia, excitement. So much so that the movie’s climax comes close to feeling physical. At this point, the entire mind is taken over by extremes of audio-visual senses: a pair of cat’s eyes stare predatorily down the barrel of the lens, mirroring the fact that the female and male protagonists are doing the same to each other, across the screen, while a suspiciously jaunty track plays loudly in the background. This happens just after male lead, Arash, The Boy (played by Arash Marandi), realises that his deadly love interest is responsible for killing his father: the underlying tension of the moment being whether or not he will vengefully attack her.

Saluting the rising phenomenon of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), here lies the other significant aspect of the underlying imaginative force in A Girl Walks Home At Night. As well as the visceral experimental style, the overarching content of the film is stirringly progressive whereby the plot and beguiling style perfectly complement each other. The story of a lonely vampire burdened by vicious impulses is bedded within the wider interconnected context of cultural, personal and gender advancement. The film itself is spoken in the Iranian tongue of Farsi with subtitles provided in English, prompting the audience to inhabit a truly cosmopolitan space. Ana Lily Amirpour has been asked, “why an Iranian vampire?”, to which she has replied with the suave subtext: ‘well, why not?’; “There can be Iranian vampires.” The anti-venom for sensationalized vampire melodramas such as Twilight, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night creates a bridge between mainstream and minority Western audiences, conjuring a cross-cultural common ground.

This pertinently intersects with the central theme of feminism in the film too. The fact that our mystical superwoman remains anonymous as ‘The Girl’ immediately encourages a discourse about the empowerment (or lack there) of women everywhere as the image of her wearing a stripy T-shirt and skinny jeans under a Burqa-esque cloak provocatively evokes inclusion. As pointed out by the British-Muslim comedian, Shazia Mirza, people forget that there are “women who can feel equally strong in a Burqa – it isn’t always about mini-skirts”. The mythical assertiveness of Amirpour’s vampire can thus be seen as symbolising a much-needed political parity that’s still missing in popular perception. Both Iranian and a literal woman of the night, Amirpour’s protagonist universally endorses sexual liberation. Indeed, this includes the corruptive baggage that generally comes with prostitution: “You don’t like what you do”, the vampire tells a well-known sex-worker when the latter boasts about her transactional spoils in an attempt to gloss over the emptiness she feels inside. Indeed, the reason the supernatural heroine has had to kill The Boy’s father is because he takes advantage of that sex-worker’s defenceless position, choosing to abuse her because he can. As a transcendent entity, The Girl can be completely socially free. She does not suffer the repercussions of an oppressive patriarchal order: visiting authoritative justice by her own swift hand. This makes us confront the limitation of ordinary woman’s freedom while there persists an essentialist misogynist norm.

Furthermore, what is interesting in the movie is that despite the attention drawn to ethnicity, very little is actually specific to Iranian culture. The language and evocative religious garment of the hero are glaring, yes, but they are ultimately broader ciphers for motivational ethical awareness. Amirpour’s black and white industrial landscape more accurately resembles the final frontier of Los Angeles in 1950s America. As mentioned in the intro, the genre of the Spaghetti Western was a major influence on the film. This famously promotes the convention of rugged masculinity, epitomised in the icon of Clint Eastwood’s modish cowboy and later in the form of the disillusioned detective, Phillip Marlowe, from Raymond Chandler’s investigative literary narratives. Marlowe navigates the convoluted underbelly of LA’s underworld, longing for the old-world ideals of character building and hard-work, captured prior in the individualistic desert explorer. With its film noir-esque exhaustive web of crime and silent stand-offs on urban pavements, this trope is also present in A Girl Walks Home Alone, but with one major difference: advocacy of social democracy through the yearning for community.

It sounds strange but this ideology is at the heart of the hypnotic feature: its tagline being ‘Can love exist in Bad City?’ Amirpour’s philanthropic originality shines through. The Cowboy and Private Detective of the past are in it for themselves, internalizing the feudal order of their European ancestors but Amirpour’s compassionate vigilante selflessly gives herself to the protection of those who have fallen through the societal cracks. Local tragedy includes The Boy, Arash, whose car is stolen by a drug-dealing pimp at the start of the film. The giant metal cranes and charging trains that litter the landscape emphasise the faceless systematization of an elite who have forgotten about the people. However, here, the pioneering storytelling casts a final layer of white magic: the uplifting relationship between the vampire Girl and Boy: Arash.

If the sardonically dubbed Bad City is a giant cauldron of the lowliest of behaviour, their hopeful chemistry represent regenerative hope. This at once crackles within mankind. But can Arash forgive The Girl for murdering his father? Can The Girl resist her knee-jerk reaction to possible male danger? Well, ingeniously, only your immersion in the sensational world of the film can tell. The movie not so much asks as stirringly communicates the big humanitarian concepts. These don’t just entertain but also compel the desire to directly act. Finally, A Girl Walks Home Alone is brilliantly abstract. Captivating pictures rolled through a heady spectrum of emotion promote a far-reverberating pro-active enlightenment. Indeed, only an invigorated spirit can affect the concrete change. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was first released on the 21st November, 2014.

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Sunetra Sunny Senior

Sunetra (Sunny) is an indie journalist, actress and short film writer. She is a popular columnist at a London weekly, and writes extensively on social democracy, Feminism and the psychological nuances of modern society. Her movies have been screened at the London Short Film Festival (LSFF) and Bristol Independent Short Film Festivals (BISFF). Her progressive, perceptive writing cuts across film, current analysis and media. Known for its unerring emotional intelligence, the work focuses on the socio-politically urgent yet unseen. She enjoys combining arts, news and mindfulness to create a unique perspective, championing social change. In 2019, she was published in Oxford University’s journal, PHENOTYPE, investigating the relationship between apex dinosaurs and modern economy! Sunetra specialises in the area of psycho-social evolution. To this end, her Sunshine Reviewing column salutes film, television and media that radiate a uniquely joyful message. Enjoy! T: @SunetraSenior

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