Sheila Vand in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
When I started thinking about writing this I wanted to entitle it ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and a 30 Year Old Desperately Tries To Stay Awake’ but for many different reasons I decided against that. For one, that title is longer than most Letterboxd reviews and more importantly it makes out that I didn’t enjoy the film. Luckily I got to see it as part of the Lay of the Land festival being held at Nottingham’s Broadway cinema. Curated by the Broadway’s programming trainee, who gave an enthusiastic and optimistic send off to the festival at the screening I attended, she spoke of her love for this final choice of film and what she wanted to say with the films she had chosen in the series. She went on to describe the festival as being about isolation and restoration and how that can come from both the locations we inhabit or the people we come across. By the end of her introduction, director Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature had a lot to live up to, especially for someone who was pretty much on the brink of passing out due to a particularly arduous day at work.
January’s inaugural festival of the year, was established as a event all about connecting people and places, the festival’s closing film, Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night tells the story of the citizens of fictional Bad City, a run down place full of people who have given up on hope and the idea that things can get better. Somehow Arash (Arash Marandi) still has a little of that hard earnt belief still in tact as he walks the streets of Bad City in the hopes of one day leaving. Little does he know there is a malevolent, vampiric presence (Sheila Vand) stalking the people of this joyless place, one that becomes intrigued by the young man, a person she has yet to experience as she hunts the wrong doers and criminals of this nocturnal town.
Shot entirely in black and white, Bad City is just as isolating as expected, a place where goodness is hidden away in the darkest shadows of a town devoid of light but this supernatural tale is at its core more a coming of age tale of reconciling with your own demons as you move through the early years of your life. The titular girl at the film’s core, despite her monstrous actions, is just seeking connections but constantly running into the same darkness she is trying to avoid. On the other end of the spectrum Arash is pouring all of his time into his mode of escape to avoid the darkness he finds in his own home during the day. Both are running from something, in search of more than the place they are living.
This is where Amirpour finds the films unexpected heart as despite the cold look of the abandoned locations, the black and white realization of a place without much of anything, there is an undeniable warmth to her picture, one full of unexpected longing and hard won joys. Be it something simple as finding connection during a night of regrets or just sharing a moment listening to a song that drowns out the silence. The stark extremes that the film navigates seem effortless as the film leaps from love to hate, compassion to indifference without any tonal whiplash at all. Mostly due to a soundtrack that punctuates the echoing silence, one that transitions you from darkness to light while never feeling obvious or rote.
Although its far cry from a perfect film as I don’t think such a film exists. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night revels in its imperfections as its leads, a terrifically melancholic Vand and a playfully romantic Marandi, try to figure out who they are, killing sprees and all. Although it might be a film all about the place and the people inhabiting it, most of all its a film all about finding your own voice and learning to live with who you are. I think that is what I found most restorative and despite the feelings of isolation Amirpour highlights here, its the sense of belonging as two imperfect people go off in search of something better that felt like the right note to end not just the film but also the evening and the festival itself.