By Ben Hynes
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT
Dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
Amirpour assembles a stylish and interesting re-framing of several genres, adopting tropes from vampire films, melodramas, and westerns, relocating them in a fictional Iranian township, Bad City. Shooting in black and white, Amirpour makes visual reference to other films as well; Sheila Vand’s The Girl, for instance, evokes Seberg in Breathless in her horizontal striped top and short pants. A drug dealer in the film’s look seems heavily influenced by Die Antwoord’s Ninja, to uproot any trepidation at backward-looking nostalgia. The film’s imagined setting makes an appropriate location for the referential action to unfold in. In this way A Girl Walks Home… feels of a piece with its dreamy atmosphere and its sometimes abrupt tonal shifts.
Loosely braided together are the stories of Arash (Arash Marandi), a young man whose father is addicted to drugs, and The Girl, revealed to be a female vampire in a veil who sometimes skateboards and listens to new wave music. The plot unevenly moves through its motions, digressing into sometimes compelling moments of romance and humour and, equally as often, sections that meander. Certain aspects of the film loom portentously, but are never marshaled toward anything substantial; interstitial shots of oil derricks working and industrial plants and train-yards gesture toward an amorphous connection to the film’s themes, but never coalesce into anything less superficial than “industry is a vampire”.
Not without its charms, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night presents a style that is at once fresh and familiar, its relative slightness alleviated somewhat by an aesthetic as alluring as a cloud made translucent by moonlight.
LISTEN UP PHILIP
Dir. Alex Ross Perry
Shot on 16mm and largely, at least in the case of its protagonist, in close-up, Listen Up Philip‘s construction articulates a precise flavour of nostalgic male egotism — erudite, brutally honest, narcissistic, literary, and essentially indebted to the work of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Perry’s decision to shoot the film in this manner demonstrates a measure of sympathy with its lead character; the camera’s focus on Philip, his face in particular, replicates the character’s own self-obsession, often lingering on his face even while others are speaking. The film’s dialogue is appropriately literate, often droll and bleakly humorous. Perry replicates this in some of his shot constructions and editing — one edit following Philip’s suggestion that an ex kiss him is particularly hilarious.
Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) is a successful young author on the cusp of greater prominence in the American literary scene. The film joins him prior to the publication of his second novel as his current relationship with Ashley Kane (Elizabeth Moss) dissolves. A meeting with Philip’s literary idol Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) reveals the character and ideals after which Philip has modeled himself. In beginning and ending Listen Up Philip with these two characters, Perry is able to illustrate a tragedy of solipsism. Zimmerman, in his paranoia and egotism, has built a life without any external connections; Philip, is his idolatry of this man, builds a similarly isolated life, though one contingent on, and thus manipulated by, Ike’s first solipsism.
The tragedy of both characters is that in their ardent pursuit of self-determination both men have denied themselves any sense of meaningful agency. They are successful but lack the relationships or sensitivity to fully contextualise and build on their achievements. Ashley, however, in the film’s middle section, is shown re-building a life after Philip. There is, in this section, a sense of a character who is sensitive to the world outside her own emotional life, and Perry’s camera seems to widen its view accordingly. More generally, this section casts the intense privileges of being white, male, and upper middle class, taken for granted by the film’s other characters, into sharp relief, offering a stronger sense of critical distance.