A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Ana Lily Amirpour has gotten rid of the kitschy quality of her earlier music video “Tehrangeles,” and shifted into the somewhat but not entirely campy universe of Jodorovsky, Lynch, Waters and other great explorers of the highly unlikely, extremely unnatural and totally engaging. Bad City, where “a girl” prowls the ink blot streets at night, deciding fates and seeking something she seems unable to name, stands for Tehran and Los Angeles both, it seems, and serves them equally well. No higher authorities, no police, no social justice intrudes on this world of petty crime, addiction, longing and loneliness. No social order of any distinction prevails. The handful of souls not yet consigned to the true underworld pass their days in desperate and predatory relationships that circle around overlapping needs they can act out but not identify. A desolate gully lies strewn with bodies, detritus from our vampire’s forays it would appear, though no one notices and no one cares about these festering souls at all.
Arash attends his needy, whining, drug addled dad, bails him out of money problems but creates his own, only to have the girl resolve them for him, with a bite from the apple, drug dealer Saeed’s adam’s apple, that is. Their paths run parallel for quite a while as she acts like a campier version of the Man with No Nmae or the Pale Rider, meting out an imperfect justice and longing for something never artciulated that becomes embodied in that moment when she and Arash finally encounter each other. An exquisite scene of the two of them, in one long take, holding, hugging, gazing and loving in her apartment as a pop song plays on her turn table (is it a relic or are we in the 1950s?: Arash’s classic and beloved Ford convertible reinforces the puzzle without resolving it). The girl is clearly a doppleganger in some sense, the darkness within one might say, melodramatically, and that sense gains vivid visualization in her mimicking the walk and gestures of those she encounters on the street. It deepens when she and Arash, dressed up as Dracula for a party, first meet, and crystalizes when he realizes, seeing the cat he captured and cared for now in her apartment after the violent death by teeth bite of his father, that she has done what half of him wished for: freedom from the father who no longer is one.
Amirpour clearly has seen a lot of films and is deeply immersed in popular culture; the mix provides the thrill of it all for some yet can also distract others from the tautness of the narrative obsessions and the elegance of their visual expression. What arrives next from Ms. Amirpour can’t be predicted though I strongly suspect it will be more surprise than repetition.

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