Wednesday, 10 June 2015

'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' review

Whoa, that title is a mouthful! I review Ana Lily Amirpour's Iranian black and white comedy zombie spaghetti western musical skateboard film filmed in LA - thingy.....

I friggin' hate goddamn vampires. They're just so.... shit: if we're being honest, there's rarely any good films made about them and they're just kinda boring. So I didn't have high hopes; I didn't google the film; I didn't read any reviews; I didn't watch the trailer. But for some unearthly reason, as I passed the Cameo on Lothian Road and noticed the poster (the one above), I decided I would see it. So I did: spur of the moment. And I'm so glad.

'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' is by all accounts NOT a vampire film. Genre wise, it's hard to categorize: I would place it as a horror along the lines of 'Under the Skin' (which would make a fascinating double bill with it), although personally I can see it as an allegorical tale. It isn't scary as such, although at points it succeeds in being decidedly creepy. In terms of musical choice, setting, and plot  twists, it's a spaghetti western. Yet I found myself laughing at some moments, so do we class it as a comedy?

Arash - James Dean lookalike
The drama unfolds in the melodramatically named 'Bad Town' in Iran (which it wasn't filmed in). We follow Arash: a well groomed masculine character that evokes, I assume purposely, James Dean. Arash is down on his luck: disassociated with his heroin and prostitute addicted father, he has somehow saved up enough money to purchase a classic and immaculate automobile. Nevertheless, we sympathize with him and his struggles. His luck turns around when Saeed, the neighborhood drug dealer, turns up dead. Not only does Arash reclaim his cash, but also the love of Saeed's killer - the beautiful but deadly 'Girl'. 'Girl' is both the titular character and a skateboarding vampire, although she is by no means the main protagonist of the story.

The plot is most certainly peripheral here, and although it contains some decent twists, it's hardly dynamite. Instead, this is a stylistic exercise with allegorical significance. 'The Girl' is effectively a hipster in 'bad town', as is Arash (although less so) - she has a record player and uses it to play 60s and 70s records as well as modern ones. Amirpour marks this as 'different' by showing the lack of any such equipment elsewhere in Bad Town. In fact, we are supposed to assume it's an alternate present as Saeed listens to thumping techno dub-step. The way in which the girl does this (without the veil used in the remainder of the film) shows rebellion, progression and the free spirit. Remind you of something? No? A black and white film set in Iran about a forward thinking,  bright female character rebelling against the system? It's the basic plot line of 'Persepolis' - which was also absolutely fantastic. In this sense the film is an allegory for Iran and it's situation - past and present. But this is just a bonus component of the film as a whole, it's real elegance is in the visuals and soundtrack.

Perfect Framing...
I can guarantee that you'll never be so physically shaken by a film as you will by "AGWHAAN" (as it shall now be called). I don't mean that it's particularly petrifying, or that that it is incredibly tense; I mean that the bass level is constantly pulsing at a dominant level to the other music: the dreading thump and reverb can be heard throughout (nearly) the whole film. If you are watching in a theater with excellent sub-woofer capabilities, this adds an otherworldly experience quality to the film. It's quite simply incredible and something unique that I've never seen before. The way in which the low tones can be used to create atmosphere and emotion in all kinds of scenes is an incredible step that's not been considered by many filmmakers (outside of large scale blockbusters that aim to create an 'epic' tone). In fact, the music is as much a part of the feature as a whole as in a musical, where essentially the music IS the feature. I wouldn't go as far as calling this a 'pseudo-musical', but it gets close. The soundtrack is extensive and is available on most platforms - it's worth it. Classical, ambient, dub-step, rock and soul all mingle together to create one atmospheric soundscape that you'd be mad to miss.

The visuals frequently attain Kubrick - like excellence in their complexity and I was taken aback at least every 5 minutes with a frame: the way the film looks conveys this supreme sense of importance that, unless you're really looking, will swallow up the story completely. It's this huge, beautiful odyssey that's as much an ode to cinema as it is to the genres it inhabits. It also bears a striking resemblance to Jim Jarmusch films - although, let's be honest: it's not a bad thing! The moments in the movie that are the most striking are when the full-swing cheery soundtrack morphs and distorts into a heavy sub-woofer line in companion to a perfectly symmetrical shot - and this happens multiple times! It's sort of a style-over-substance lovers dream.

All in all, this IS my favorite vampire movie EVER made. It's style is perfect, the shots are perfect, the soundtrack is perfect, the experience is perfect,  and it's tone is perfect. However, the story-line is a tad bland. Nevertheless, SEE THIS MOVIE whilst it's in theaters (for the bass)!

'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' gets 4 stars!

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