“Now in its 43rd year, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art’s New Directors/New Films festival continues its commitment to bringing exciting new discoveries from around the world to New York City filmgoers,” begins Ed Gonzalez, introducing Slant‘s special section. “Twenty-nine countries represent the 27 features and 13 shorts that make up this year’s program, which kicks off on March 19 with a screening of Ana Lily Amirpour‘s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, a carryover from this year’s Sundance Film Festival that has been described as the first Iranian vampire film, and closes on March 30 with Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s 20,000 Days on Earth, which follows a fictitious day in the life of musician Nick Cave during the writing of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album Push the Sky Away.”
Here in Keyframe, Jordan Cronk notes that “the absolute best films in this year’s line-up are festival triumphs of a very recent vintage—and some of 2013’s standout premieres at that.” Calum Marsh writes up a handful of favorites for the Voice and, at Artinfo, Graham Fuller suggests “some speculative double bills that could be drawn from a dozen of the most intriguing entries.” More overviews: Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott in the New York Times and Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker.
We turn to tonight’s opening film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and back to Ed Gonzalez: “Ana Lily Amirpour’s imaginary vision of an Iranian underworld, shot in Los Angeles, is one where trees look like atomic mushroom clouds, pimps and hookers freely roam the streets, bodies are rolled into ditches like clockwork, and the rich huddle unseen in the shadows. This ‘Tehrangeles,’ as Amirpour has called it, is captured in radiant black and white, and the standoffs between the living and the maybe-dead that play out on its sparsely walked streets and sidewalks are framed as western duels. Post-punk in the key of Joy Division haunts the soundtrack as deeply as the clouds that perpetually darken what feel like ever-night skies. This could be the dominion of Henry Spencer, the Man with No Name, even the three imprisoned amigos from Down by Law. Really, though, it’s the feeding ground of a stone-faced, hijab-clad girl whose fangs come out whenever she catches a whiff of moral rot.”
Amirpour’s “vampire is a solitary walker in a sad world populated by pimps, drug addicts, a possibly decent guy and a cat that might be searching for Llewyn Davis,” writes A.O. Scott in the NYT. “Amirpour has made a rock ’n’ roll Persian feminist fable in which the character evoked in the title, an emblem of female vulnerability, is also an agent of revenge. The film’s anger is balanced by a Jim Jarmusch-like cool and by a disarmingly innocent outlaw romanticism.”
When it premiered at Sundance, Guy Lodge wrote in Variety that this “auspicious debut feature spices its genre stew with elements of Lynchian neo-noir and even spaghetti Western, but the film’s pointed, contemporary gender politics are very much its own…. No film that revels in extended shots of a poker-faced, hijab-clad Nosferata cruising the streets for blood on a slow-rolling skateboard can be said to be playing things entirely straight, but Amirpour’s film also avoids the midnight-madness irreverence that its genre-mashing premise might have invited. Neither, for all its still-of-the-desert-night atmosphere, is Girl an entirely cold-hearted exercise, as it etches a sweet, sad and solemnly fatalistic love story between feeding times.”
“Though there’s some mordant wit, Girl is really a film of hushed tones and quiet rhythms, especially as it develops into an unlikely, delicately handled love story of sorts,” writes Boyd van Hoeij for the Hollywood Reporter. “The director and editor Alex O’Flinn take their time—occasionally too much time—to observe the characters, and the introspective mood is enhanced by the monochrome visuals and exquisite use of the widescreen canvas of cinematographer Lyle Vincent (he also shot Sundance title Cooties with Elijah Wood, who’s an executive producer here). Equally important is the soundtrack, with music ranging from the Middle Eastern fusion beats of Bei Ru to the underground Iranian rock of Radio Tehran and Kiosk to the spaghetti western-inspired tunes of Portland-based Federale.”
More from Glenn Dunks (Film Experience), Beth Hanna (Thompson on Hollywood), Eric Kohn (Indiewire, A), Drew McWeeney (HitFix) and Ben Umstead (Twitch). Danielle Lurie and Sarah Salovaara talk with Amirpour for Filmmaker, and Emma Myers interviews her for Film Comment.
Updates, 3/24: At the Playlist, Drew Taylor gives Girl Walks an A-: “Amirpour, who could have easily starred as the main character, is clearly inspired by comic books, with many of the scenes carrying a careful, graphic novel sense of composition. (Amirpour is also authoring a series of comic books that continue the story.) Each shot seems to be more beautiful than the last, with deep, dark blacks and blurry lens flares that were accomplished the old fashioned way: by shooting anamorphic. There is one sequence where the girl is stalking a potential victim by mirroring their every move from across the street. It’s a moment that exemplifies the movie as a whole—funny, scary, oddly sexy and deeply gorgeous.”
“Lyle Vincent’s cinematography and Sergio De La Vega’s production design are as much a star attraction as the actors, if not more so,” writes Christopher Bourne at Twitch. “However, outside of the novelty of its premise, the film doesn’t offer much more of substance; it’s so obsessed with its own coolness, irreverence, and taboo-breaking in an Iranian context (with its crime ridden milieu and brief nudity), that we are always kept at a remove. Also, once the novelty wears off, the film becomes draggy and thematically repetitive. Still, this debut feature marks the arrival of a promising talent.”