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Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, A
In the Iranian outpost Bad City, one might expect the drugs, prostitution and violence to absorb a beautiful, young woman. But this woman is different, and far from helpless. She is a vampire vigilante of sorts, distraught by her bloodlust but pragmatic, choosing victims that at least deserve their fates. Ana Lily Amirpour's ambitious debut reveals surrealist and Spaghetti Western influences and is visually striking. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night defies expectations with its female vampire antihero; something complemented by her Iranian heritage. Amirpour makes a bold statement here that women in any country can control their own lives.
Bad City recalls a dusty Sin City. Women work the street corners, the downtrodden shoot up in flophouses, and a pit of bodies lies uncovered just outside of town. Shooting from a script inspired by her graphic novel, Amirpour tells two stories: Arash (Arash Marandi) works for years to buy the fancy sports car that a local drug dealer (Dominic Rains) steals when Arash's father (Marshall Manesh) fails to repay a drug debt. The Girl (Sheila Vand) watches from the shadows as the dealer torments Arash and a local prostitute (Mozhan Marno). When Arash notices the Girl, he is entranced. The Girl is lonely but guarded, and cautiously opens up to Arash.
A woman wearing a hijab is not the most likely candidate for vampire heroine, but Amirpour chews through much cultural stereotyping here. At its core, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a love story. The Girl is alienated by her condition, and the film hints that she has spent many nights quietly observing the oppression around her. Arash is similarly reserved and alone. For-hire women throw themselves at him, but he is looking for something else. The vampire must feed, but the Girl regrets the necessity of taking a life. Instead of doing so at random, she seeks out the dealer and other predators.
The thematic and narrative fusion here is strong. The film at times feels like a delicate romance. It then switches gears into art-house visual stimulation before slamming into a scene of spooky suspense. The scenery is gorgeous despair, shot in black and white and framed beautifully by cinematographer Lyle Vincent. There is very little dialogue, and Amirpour instead allows her images to speak loudly. They're often hypnotizing, like shots of Masuka the Cat reacting to the violence around him.
Such a unique film deserves to be experienced, but A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not without flaws. The 101-minute film has some serious pacing issues in the back half, when the narrative grinds to a halt. I glanced at my watch several times, and this stagnant segment dilutes the mystery somewhat. Despite this, Vand and Manesh are both excellent, and this is a hell of a debut for Amirpour. Stylish and unexpected, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is unlike anything in recent memory.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image complements the look of the film. The black and white image has an overall softer appearance, but there is still plenty of fine-object detail to be had. Black levels are deep, though the image is not without crush, most of which is intentional. There is a bit of digital noise in darker scenes, again probably a result of the low-budget filmmaking, but skin tones appear accurate. Contrast is excellent, and there are no harsh, blown-out highlights.
The Farsi 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is immersive and nicely designed, with crystal clear dialogue and frequent surround action. The score and desolate ambient effects surround the viewer, transporting them to Bad City. There is a lot of music here to complement the mood, and it is nicely balanced and integrated into the mix. When the film turns violent, the subwoofer responds aggressively. A Farsi 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included, as are the expected English subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Kino Lorber handles the Blu-ray release, and has put together an excellent set for Blu-ray collectors. Packed in a striking cardboard digipack, this single-disc release also includes Amirpour's graphic novel. The memorable poster art adorns the cover, and there are a number of complementary images scattered across the inner panels of the digipack. Extras are extensive:
- Behind the Scenes (20:32/HD) - This piece jumps between work on several different scenes, and features some nice fly-on-the-wall action.
- Deleted Scenes (22:08/HD) - A number of small character bits are featured here, though they were wisely cut from the film.
- Q&A with Roger Corman (44:18/HD) - The legendary director and producer interviews Amirpour in this lengthy piece. The director isn't the best interview subject, often stumbling for words, but there is a lot of information to be gathered here.
- VICE: Behind the Scenes (19:13/HD) - Another piece with interviews and BTS footage, with input from producer Elijah Wood.
- Stills Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer (1:29/HD)
Ana Lily Amirpour's Iranian Spaghetti Western vampire love story is an ambitious debut, with gorgeous images and haunting performances. This intimate, unique film is worth seeking out despite pacing issues. Kino has provided a gorgeously packaged and stacked Blu-ray edition for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night that will please fans. Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.