Iranian-American filmmaker’s Farsi-language vampire film is unusual in all the right ways.
Ana Lily Amirpour
Ana Lily Amirpour
Director of Photography:
Running time: 100 minutes
The gorgeously greyscale landscape of a noir reality that seems familiar yet distant, sweet yet mysterious, even mystifying, is the setting for a Farsi-language vampire film that is certainly unlike your average Iranian film. With major themes of drug use and prostitution, and even a very revealing scene in the bathtub, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is as unusual as it is entertaining, and while the filmmaking is minimalist rather than schlocky, the Farsi-speaking female vampire is as appealing as any femme fatale.
Set in Bad City, the two threads of the narrative – involving a lonely vampire on the prowl and a young man whose father has drug problems – come together when the two main characters meet late at night. As usual, the girl, who always walks home alone at night, is on the hunt for a fresh jugular vein, but when she sees the young Arash, dressed up as Dracula and crashing after an Ecstasy high, looking up in wonder at a street lamp, she has second thoughts, and that is when the magic happens.
The magic is an unexpected moment of audiovisual bliss, as a static camera captures the two slowly moving toward each other in the girl’s subterranean dwelling while a disco ball inexplicably keeps spinning, throwing little spatterings of light on the wall behind them. All the while, the music on the soundtrack, the White Lies’ “Death”, is infectious and can easily rouse the viewer out of her seat. But even this scene is just a forerunner to greatness, as a few minutes later, a prostitute, a balloon and an unbroken take from a mobile perspective come together to create the most poetic and poignant moment of the entire film.
Director Ana Lily Amirpour, a British-born Iranian-American who collected money for her film online through Kickstarter in 2012, has crafted a film that doesn’t seek to subvert the conventions of the vampire genre as much as it wants to play with those conventions to tell a story of two unusual individuals who find love in a way neither of them ever would have expected.
The girl’s black-as-night waist-length hijab, which looks a bit like a fashion accessory, suggests mourning, and she is certainly not a barrel of laughs; on the contrary, she barely says a word. But it is this silence that makes her so mysterious, and while we might have our suspicions that she is up to no good, we are also very happy when one of her first victims is the drug dealer who is keeping Arash’s father in crushing debt. She also appears to care a great deal about the prostitute, Atti, who just wants to get by but is tormented by loneliness, and she becomes a friend of sorts to her.
Despite the Farsi-language signage on the street, Bad City is very obviously neither in Iran nor in the United States. It forms part of a filmic reality that suits the genre and functions remarkably well, because there is always a feeling that we don’t exactly know what to expect.
While the characters speak Farsi, the film’s sexual imagery – which includes, among others, fingers that find their way to mouths, and pumpjacks that piston in and out of the ground across the desert landscape on the outskirts of the city – is wholly unexpected for an Iranian production and contributes to the pleasure of watching something wholly unorthodox. The film was shot in the United States and was produced in part by Elijah Wood.
Director Amirpour has a light touch when it comes to the use of the vampire genre conventions, and while the title character only drinks blood, doesn’t eat and doesn’t appear during daytime, she does have a mirror (all the better to put on her lipstick) and there is no mention of garlic or stakes or coffins that serve as night-time sanctuaries of repose. Amirpour’s use of music is equally laudable, with the soundtrack, ranging from Western-like and Morricone-inspired to British post-punk, impossible to fault and thoroughly enjoyable.
The girl who walks home alone at night is a vampire, but that doesn’t take away from her romantic timidity, and when she finds a man willing to love her in spite of her immortality and thirst for blood, we readily share her initial reluctance to pursue the affair. The character, whom we still don’t know much about by the end of the film, suggests enough complexity for the viewer to keep watching.
The result is very different from the noirs or the Westerns we may know (and it very well may not live up to the expectations of fans of the latter), and although there are small quibbles with the development of the story, this heavily stylised film is comical, moving and sexy, and it will entertain many a moviegoer.