Film / Reviews

A mopey, dopey 'Twilight' for hipsters

by Giovanni Fazio

Special To The Japan Times

Part of the reason for the great financial crash of 2007 was bad lending practices. Basically, anything that walked through the door on two legs and not drooling would be given a home mortgage, regardless of the risk. It seems like such irrational behavior has also infected movie producers: Since the success of the “Twilight” series, any chancer waving a script that contains the word “vampire” seems to be getting greenlighted.

In the case of first-time director Ana Lily Amirpour, it seems like her angle was ” ‘Twilight’ for hipsters” — you know, a cool vampire in a Jean Seberg striped Breton shirt with a Lillian Gish bob, smoking and skateboarding and playing ’80s new-wave analog records in Warholian real time. Amirpour initially shopped around a striking eight-minute short that contained the essence of what she was going for: bold, hyperrealistic black-and-white cinematography and a comic-book locale known as Bad City, where an Iranian cast act out a human-boy-meets-undead-girl story amid a backdrop of junkies, pimps and assorted lowlife.

It turns out, though, that eight minutes’ worth of ideas is all she had. The finished feature relies almost completely on style over substance and a tendency towards painfully looooong takes — think Bela Tarr directing “Sin City” and you’ll be getting close.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Rating
Run Time 99 mins
Language Farsi (subtitles in Japanese)
Opens NOW PLAYING

Arash Marandi plays Arash, a wide-eyed good guy who looks like a Bollywood notion of James Dean in his white T-shirt, jeans and classic car. He works as a gardener for The Princess (Rome Shadanloo), while also taking care of his father, The Junkie (Marshall Manesh), who’s addicted to opium and has run up a large debt with The Pimp (Dominic Rains), a Satanic-looking dealer who’s clad in the universal douche-bag uniform of tracksuit and giant bling gold chains.

Also flitting between the characters is The Prostitute (Mozhan Marno), although she fails to notice the other woman on the streets, The Girl (Sheila Vand), a headscarf-clad vampire who acts as an avenging angel, drinking the blood of Bad City’s sketchiest denizens. Everybody in Bad City seems to deserve what they get from her, until the lonely girl meets the equally lonely Arash at a costume party where he’s done up as Dracula; he’s too cute to bite, and from there a mopey emo romance develops at a funereal pace.

Arash Marandi is a lead actor so intent on doing nothing more than striking poses that he makes Robert Pattinson from “Twilight” look like Daniel Day-Lewis. Sheila Vand, for her part, is little more than heavy eyeliner and a pair of fangs. They’re as two-dimensional as anyone in “Sin City,” but minus the action and plot it feels even more shallow, especially when compared to Jim Jarmusch’s recent take on hipster vampires, “Only Lovers Left Alive.” Jarmusch is as slow and concerned with cool as Amirpour, but he also fills his films with ideas and far more intriguing characters; “comic book” is not any sort of ideal in his universe.

Much has been made of “A Girl Walks Home Alone” being an “Iranian” film, even though the director lives in and shot the film in the United States. Aside from the Farsi-language dialogue, the cultural specifics here seem closer to Tarantino than Persia. Oh sure, the backdrop to Bad City is a desert full of oil rigs, and the vampire wears a chador (headscarf), two of the most obvious cliches of the Mideast you can think of, but the way in which The Girl wields her black chador like a vampire’s cape, infusing the common Islamic headwear with intimations of evil and menace, is hardly a stereotype that needs reinforcing.

Amirpour may have a future in directing perfume commercials, but anyone whose debut — the film she’s been storing up ideas for her entire life — is as vacant as this should consider a different career. At one point in the movie, Arash asks The Girl, who looks strikingly like the director herself, “Why are you here?” It’s a good question.