Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

* spoilers *

A mysterious girl walks the streets at night, punishing the wicked and protecting the good in the Iranian town Bad City, a cesspool of pimps, thieves, prostitutes, and other criminals. Arash is trapped in the city living with his heroin addicted father. He deals drugs, but he does it to survive and his ambitions lie elsewhere. Instead of following his dreams, he's stuck in Bad City cleaning up his father's messes and paying back his debts. Arash and the girl's paths eventually cross and a kind of romance blossoms. While this is happening, bodies are found with increasing frequency.

I've heard nothing but good things about this film, so I was eager to watch it. The cinematography is beautiful and artistic. The film is entirely in black and white, which makes the use of light and shadows all the more effective. I could have watched it happily on mute. The story moves agonizingly slow at times, but it was like slowly opening a gift that reveals just a little bit of itself as you tear more and more wrapping. There is no real explanation of the story. Where are the police? Who is this girl? Why is she there and what are her motives?

Sheila Vand kills it as the girl. The chador she wears outside only reveals her face, leaving the rest of her a mystery. The loose, flowing garment is like a superhero cape, but also like Dracula's cape, which brings to mind classic vampires from the Bela Lugosi era of film. This film takes those classic vampire expectations with her outerwear and then reveals it to be false when we get to know her more. Underneath, she could be anyone. She wears comfortable clothing, usually a striped shirt, pants, and comfy sneakers. She loves riding her skateboard and listening to music alone in her apartment when she isn't exacting revenge or dissuading wannabe criminals or evildoers.

Despite her outwardly youthful appearance, there's no questioning the girl's age and experience. She carefully observes everything and keeps herself hidden as with her dress. Throughout most of the film, she waits for others to talk and rarely initiates conversation on her own. This may be seen as a weakness, but she allows people to reveal themselves to her while she stays a blank slate to them. Oftentimes, they project their own preconceived notions onto her. She's looking for some human connection because eternity is lonely. Based on the events in the film and the giant pile of jewelry and other valuable items, she mostly runs into miscreants of various types. Then it all changes when she meets a slurry Arash and they have an instant connection. Their romance is sweet and a little awkward. It's clear that the girl doesn't need Arash to survive. She can take care of herself. However, companionship makes life more enjoyable and more bearable.

I love the role reversal that the girl poses. The title indicates something dangerous. A girl walking home alone at night is vulnerable to attack and this situation is pretty much the staple situation of any horror film. The danger is shifted in this film from the vulnerable girl to the stereotypical perpetrator of these attacks. This girl uses tactics that male harassers would make towards women, like standing and staring at them, following their every movement, or chasing them down. This role reversal either makes the targets uncomfortable or causes them to dismiss her because of her gender until it's too late. The girl is usually very stoic and quiet, but she's quick to turn efficiently violent when the opportunity arises.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a unique film in black and white and entirely in Farsi. The film is clearly influenced by spaghetti westerns, graphic novels. and classic horror films. It moves slowly, thoughtfully, and deliberately. If nothing else, try it because it's something new and different. It has shades of a lot of things like Let the Right One In plus all its influences, but manages to be wholly itself.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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