One of my favourite films of 2015 was ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ which was directed by Lily Amirpour. It seemed to come out of nowhere. Although shot in Southern California it’s a Persian language film and the setting is a fictional Iranian place called Bad City; a ghost town where criminality and death are the thickest threads running through its inhabitant’s lives. Here we find The Girl – a skateboarding, hijab wearing vampire who stalks the town.
Played by Sheila Vand, The Girl is an iconic new take on the vampire; she’s in the same bracket as Eli from ‘Let The Right One In’ and Jesse Hooker’s family of roaming ghouls from ‘Near Dark’ (in fact I can highly recommend Near Dark and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night as a terrific alt-vampire double bill). All these versions of the vampire push the mythology into interesting new directions while maintaining a scary, dangerous presence.
The film is essentially a love story between the two protagonists, The Girl and Arash – a kind of Arabian James Dean; it follows them through their day-to-day life and non-life exploring what a potential relationship would mean to each of them. Can they overcome their situations, the natural inclinations and all the other obstacles that seem to make it inevitable that they can’t be together? But that is the film as a whole and I don’t want to give too much away.
The scene I think is the ‘eye of the duck’ is one that I’m actually a little torn over, I question whether or not I’ve picked one that is too significant in terms of plot? Would the film still progress in the same way without it? In the end I’ve gone with it because I think it can be argued that this is an extension of the previous scene and the important events that drive the plot have probably happened already – they’ve met, they’ve connected as much as their conditions allow and they are now linked. But, it does open up the characters and gives a deeper layer of understanding to the viewers that would be missing if the scene were not there. This is one of my favourite single scenes of any film in recent years, it’s so beautifully shot and paced that it lingers long after the film had finished. It’s so good you can watch it as if it were a five-minute short film, a window on two characters in a moment of intimacy. It feels pivotal, but remove it from the film and you’d still get from A-B, just with something brilliant missing from the journey.
I’ll call the scene ‘The Bedroom & The Glitter-ball’ and in it we find Arash has gone back to The Girl’s apartment. The moment has directly followed their first meeting, on the street late at night. Arash has come from a party at a club where he had taken ecstasy and his intoxicated state has blocked any sense of threat he may have felt around her in other circumstances.
The shots are slow and few, the camera fixed and there is no dialogue for the entire four and a half minutes we are with them. The Girl is the clear focus as she stands at her record player and at first it is easy to miss Arash as he’s reclined on the bed, half collapsed, half lounging; he is a part of the scenery, unmoving. She puts on a record – Death by White Lies – and the music stirs him. The Girl barely moves as the song plays and the focus now is Arash who stands to spin the glitter-ball suspended from the ceiling. Then, after nearly one and a half minutes there is the only cut of the scene. A close up of The Girl, just head and shoulders, still stood motionless and in the extreme right of the frame. Slowly Arash enters from the left and moves across the screen to stand close behind her and she finally turns to meet him.
The tension builds through the achingly slow movements of the characters, the music and the fact that as an audience, we are unsure of The Girl’s intentions. She could have killed Arash and fed by now, why is she lingering?
The music builds; it’s lyrics mirroring the feelings and story as The Girl pulls Arash’s head back, bearing his neck. All the tension is with the audience and The Girl, she has conflicting needs and urges and is torn as to which she will nourish. She decides against feeding and instead rests her head on his chest. “Yes, this fear’s got a hold on me” affirms the singer, but it is her fear; Arash is left oblivious of the danger he has been in. The music fades and we are left with the rhythmic boom of his heartbeat that The Girl is listening to and it is telling her that she is only ever one bite from the other kind of fulfilment that she craves.
And that’s it, just two people in a room, listening to a record and eventually embracing. But it tells us so much about The Girl; we already know by this point that she has a moral compass, but now we see that she is truly conflicted. She is no mindless animal, she isn’t a pure killer and there is a desire for more. She wants the same connection that Arash wants; she wants to be with him.
As I previously mentioned, I’m still torn as to whether this is the ‘eye of the duck’ scene. There are other scenes that give us character insights that have less to do with the plot – there is a point where we see The Girl alone in her apartment getting ready to go out. She dances to her music, she puts on make-up showing us there is more to her than just a killing machine, she has maintained human traits and needs. We are told things about Arash in a similar manner as well. But I can’t think of another scene that adds as much complexity to the situation they find themselves in.