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JDIFF 2015: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night // Return to Ithaca

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

★★★★½

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Late last year, an Iranian/American vampire film showed up on a number of US-based journalist’s “end of year” lists with further investigation marking it as one to watch. The film in question, Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, played at Sundance 15 months ago but is only now showing up this side of the water.

The film is Amirpour’s debut and tells the story of a trendy, young, hijab-wearing vampire (Sheila Vand, Argo) as she traverses around “Bad City” feeding on men – often on her skateboard. In the middle of all this, she forms an unlikely friendship with a young man named Arash (Arash Marandi).

The film is a strong statement on feminism and the limitations of women in the Middle East. It is undeniably cool, self-aware and even manages to be quite funny. There are a number of characters who are very easy to hate due to the way they push the limits of misogyny and oppression, none more so than the drug-dealer Saeed who has the word SEX tattooed on his neck. The monochrome look and the simple moral themes call to mind the work of Frank Miller and his Sin City series with plenty of nods to the Western genre. Some people could view it as a bit too simplistic at times, but there’s so much depth here in this genre picture that you should overlook these issues.

Cinematographer Lyle Vincent shot the film in full anamorphic black-and-white and deserves huge credit for making such a visually impressive film – all the more impressive when you consider that “Bad City” was actually created and shot in a part of California.

With strong performances, a fantastic look and a solid story Amirpour has really announced her arrival on the global independent film scene. Her follow-up, the Texas-set cannibal story The Bad Batch with Keanu Reeves, should be a real treat.

Writer-Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Year: 2014
Country of Origin: USA
Duration: 100 minutes
Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh

Return to Ithaca

★★½

return to ithaca

Palme d’Or winner Laurent Cantet (The Class, 2008) is a French film-maker who learned Spanish and traveled to a Cuban rooftop for his latest film. Return to Ithaca sees a group of middle-aged friends reuniting to spend a single evening dissecting middle-age, identity, loss and nationalism.

These are all people who were so carefree and optimistic in the 20s but have found themselves stifled in their careers and pulled away from each other over the years. They’re meeting at the home of Aldo, who left Havana years ago and didn’t return even when his wife was on her death-bed. The script that Cantet co-wrote with the Cuban writer Leonardo Padura is quite good at revealing hints and nuggets of information on what went wrong as the night goes on. The performances are very strong as he manages to find space for each of the characters to have their say on their own individual struggles.

In a festival environment, a film’s runtime and pacing becomes key to an audience accepting it. Putting a slow moving, dialogue-dense drama on at 9.15pm at the end of a long week of film-going was always going to be a bad idea. The film is only 95 minutes long but felt a lot longer, due to a some serious dragging in the middle

There are some shots of the surrounding activity on other rooftops and nearby streets but for the most-part this is an exercise in dialogue and character that demands audience focus and patience. While a single-setting film can be fun (think about trains and airplanes), putting everything in an apartment or rooftop means your script and pacing needs to be spot-on, unfortunately Cantet’s effort will be seen by some as a bit of a bore.

Director: Laurent Cantet
Year: 2014
Country of Origin: France
Duration: 95 minutes
Writers: Leonardo Padura, Laurent Cantet
Cast: Isabel Santos, Jorge Peugorría, Fernando Hechevarria
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Nigel

Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.

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