By the time the vampire in the chador is skateboarding down a dark, desolate street, the director Ana Lily Amirpour has ensured that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) will roll on in your memory. The vampire, a Persian-speaking waif called the Girl (Sheila Vand), also wears a striped fishing shirt and an occasional smear across her mouth that isn’t lipstick. She’s taken the skateboard from a nameless tyke (Milad Eghbali), whose indomitable quality and threadbare clothes evoke the children populating Abbas Kiarostami’s early films and, in turn, those of Italian neorealism. Whatever the inspiration, the kid is just one of a number of character types drifting through Ms. Amirpour’s cinematic fun house.
Shot for what seems like two well-spent dollars and change, this black-and-white movie opens with a male beauty, Arash (Arash Marandi), a gardener who’s been dolled up to resemble James Dean but looks more like a James Franco cousin. Wearing a T-shirt and jeans, his hair flopping prettily, Arash is posed in a desolate vista that brings to mind “Giant,” the 1956 wide-screen soap in which James Dean pines for Elizabeth Taylor through a fog of complications and under a coat of crude oil. (It may summon up Texas, but everyone speaks Persian, which produces a mild estrangement effect.) Arash doesn’t appear terribly tortured, though he’s burdened by his addict father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh), a swamp of misery indebted to a pimp, Saeed (Dominic Rains).
Ms. Amirpour shot her movie in Bakersfield, Calif., and she has obviously watched her share of Sergio Leone westerns. She can fill a wide-screen frame, and if you don’t mind narrative repetition and passages in which nothing much happens, beyond pretty people staring at other pretty people, you may not mind that she has trouble filling this overlong movie, which comes in at 107 minutes, when 70 would have done nicely. Still, she gives you much to look at, including an image that looks like Madonna (it’s Margaret Atwood!) on the Girl’s wall that suggests that time (and life) stopped for the vampire in the 1980s. The image reflects the movie’s humor and feminism, and suggests Ms. Amirpour’s complex relationship to appropriation.
That complexity is suggested by the Girl’s look, which conjures up the “Papa Don’t Preach” music video in which Madonna wears a shirt and a pixie do borrowed from Jean Seberg. The video is a model of pop-culture intertextuality that makes a virtue out of its wide-ranging sampling, and much of its fun came from peeling its thickly layered influences. Something similar initially seems at work in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. This is a movie that, after all, invites you to play a game of Name That Allusion, with Dean, Leone and so forth. Yet even as Ms. Amirpour draws heavily from various bodies of work with vampirelike hunger, she gives her influences new life by channeling them through other cultural forms, including her chador-cloaked vampire. The Girl isn’t actually alone: She has lots and lots of company.
Review courtesy of The New York Times