Had to organize my thoughts on the movies I saw this holiday weekend (Hooray, President’s Day weekend in the USA…you know, provided one can forget that almost every U.S. President so far is a war criminal, but ah well). Not because they’re particularly complex, but because each of these movies have traits that make them worthwhile viewings in their own right. Again, these movies are not deep, but fast-paced or slow they show some good steps in the right direction for moviemaking in their own right.
Let’s start with one of my first real delights in 2015 movie theater-going, “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”, written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, with lead performances by Sheila Vand and Arash Marandi.
Let’s get this out of the way: I’m pretty biased towards movies that decide to take a more-laid back (yet perceptive) approach to, well, being a movie. From the Jim Jarmusch-directed “Dead Man” to “Force Majeure” written and directed by Ruben Ostlund. From the Andrei Tarkovsky classic, “Stalker” to the underrated Stanley Kubrick movie, “Barry Lyndon”. The tragic and understated “Wendy and Lucy” directed by Kelly Reichardt…hell, I even like the as-of-late movies of Nicolas Winding Refn (most of them. “Only God Forgives” didn’t set my world on fire). I love movies that decide to just…speak for themselves. Not to say that I think a movie is art only if EVERY single shot is a wide one, while the soundtrack consists mainly of ambiance and the director masturbating until they bleed. There are bad movies that share the traits of some of the more well-known movies with the kind of approach I praise…or at least tries to share those traits. When it works…it’s game-changing, or at least a good time, a reminder that not everything needs forward motion and a musical score instructing you to feel for said forward motion to be a worthwhile one.
Hence my delight when I found “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” taking that approach, while also having a sense of style and fun. Is it kitsch? Yep. Does it have much to say? Well…not exactly. Here is a movie that has a lot of detail, and yet is very simple. In a way, it’s a daring stunt-dive towards pretension that has enough skill to pull out just in time, with long takes and juxtiposition of imagery calling to mind some of the worst traits of the Sundance Film Festival set: some acting, some production values, maybe some killer music (provided the moviemakers can afford it) yet not much of anything there.
Yet this movie’s surface, and how it handles said surface, is so perceptive, so strong and so affecting that even if the movie is the equivalent of a trendy “fusion” diner, it’s at least a good kind of fusion, even a great one. It’s the kind of fusion that takes into account the many facets of life, cuts said facets to manageable pieces, and then arranges it into a tasty panoramic form: Persian music, a 1950s car, family troubles, drugs, oil refineries, love, a gangster, a troubled sex worker trying to get by…oh, and a vampire wearing a chador*. Sounds wild, right? Well, just watch.
The plot is so light that spelling it out is futile. Here is a movie that is all about the details and the motions, with the “plot” being almost coincidental. Economical dialogue peppers the scenery, and characters ACT with their bodies most of the time. Meaning that while people talk, there are no exposition dumps to be found here. The movie just arranges all of its details together, sits down with it’s legs open, and lets it all hang out for its 99 minute running time. And you know what? Just about every moment is sumptuous.
If you’re going to compare this to, “Only Lovers Left Alive”…well, go ahead, just be aware that while Jim Jarmusch’s effort takes a few genre conventions and goes all over the place with them (to the point where it’s almost genre-less), “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” is more compact, with less of a sense of wanderlust. Which is fine, because however skin-deep (yet perceptive) this movie is, getting to know these characters and their background through their little moments is kind of a treat on it’s own right. It helps that the movie is beautiful, has neat performances and a kick-ass soundtrack. Yep, all of those Sundance Film Festival checkboxes have been ticked, but this movie does a damn good job ticking them and then some.
The only thing that’s bothersome about this movie, besides a few bits of questionable special effects/cinematic execution, is the ending. I won’t spoil it, let’s just say there is a depressing sense of fridge logic about the whole thing…the kind that makes the ending of the Tomas Alfredson-directed, “Let The Right One In” adaptation feel kind of…fuck. It’s a wonderfully executed ending, sure, one that shows the director as a huge cinephile in their own right (so being a minority cinephile DOES work out. Fingers crossed), but…yeah. The pessimistic among you might view it as a deception at best, a cop-out at worst.
But like I said: this movie isn’t exactly Grand Art. There’s no themes, no grand character arcs, overt politics, or even overt Feminism, despite the subversiveness of the Chador-Wearing Vampire Woman’s existence in the context of this movie (hell, the director herself is arms-length about it, not without reason). Often, movies from the Sundance Film Festival Circuit (or film festivals in general) are little more than pieces of detail, music and performance strung over a set running time, that then gets critically acclaimed because it hits a particular niche in their Special Place or has some Behind-The-Scenes hype about how tough making the movie was. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” has a bit of both going for it, but thankfully it has enough punch and beauty to transcend those traits while most other movies end up sunk by them. Definitely check this movie out whenever, and however, you can.
* I made the mistake of calling what the vampire protagonist wears a Hajib. Sometimes she wears a hajib, as far as I can remember, but it’s actually a chador.
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