Rarely is an indie debut so beyond compare than in this black and white Iranian vampire-western.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
With their late night social lives, sensual eating habits, and lonely existences, vampires are already among the most romantic and mysterious of mythical beings. They’ve been used in plenty of different settings, but Ana Lily Amirpour‘s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night may be the first to harness the ripeness of young love with a vampire, crossed with a black and white western, with a dash of Frank Miller’s nighttime crime scenery. More amazing is that this genre mix is executed in a way that is both artfully quiet and amazingly hip.
Here’s the premise: in the mythical Iranian scum town of Bad City the people fear the local thugs, either working for them or feeding their drug addictions as clientele. In such a town, James Dean-esque Arash (Arash Marandi) is a rare good guy, caring for his junkie father and working hard to afford his gorgeous vintage Thunderbird. At night a girl (Sheila Vand), her eyes rimmed black in eyeliner, covered from head to toe in a hijab, walks in the darkness, following men. One night she encounters Saeed (Dominic Rains), a self-absorbed and dangerous drug dealer who earlier that day took Arash’s beloved car as payment owed by his father for drugs. With nary a word Saeed is seduced by the girl’s dark eyes and lips. He takes her to his extravagant apartment, letting her look around while he indulges in some of his drugs, music pumping, eventually giving her a pathetic sexy dance. And when she does finally come near to him, placing his finger in her mouth seductively, she counters his intentions by cleanly biting off his finger before draining him completely. It’s horrifying, hilarious, and, somehow, heroic.
This is the gritty texture of Amirpour’s film. Shot in crisp black and white, the film’s setting is distinctly more California dust bowl than Iran, which makes sense since it was shot near Bakersfield. Oil pumps grind up and down, sucking black oil out of the ground while the girl drains the city slowly in her own way. And though she speaks quite rarely, the girl appears to be in all other respects aside from her late night diet, a typical, albeit lonely, young woman. She lives alone in an apartment where band posters paper her walls, a disco ball turns overhead, she wears skinny jeans and an oversized french-style striped shirt, and she plays the latest new wave music, dancing by herself in the fashion of a vampire girl yearning for more. At night she has a distinct taste: men, preferably the bad sort. In an especially frightening scene a young street urchin (Milad Eghbali) is stopped by the girl and she threatens him into always being a “good boy,” then takes his skateboard with her.
Thus, one night as she skateboards down a street in Bad City, hijab flowing behind her, the girl encounters Arash for the first time. He’s dejected and high after a bad party. His innocence intrigues her (and those big brown eyes as well) and she takes him home. The romance between the girl and Arash is entirely atmospheric. Amirpour takes her time, allowing the mood, strobing light, and dance-y music of Arash and the girl’s first moment of attraction to wash over viewers. It’s beautiful, and sexy as hell. Marandi is the good-boy-with-an-edge every girl—or vampire girl—dreams of, and he plays Arash with no sense of irony. Vand is an absolute delight, giving off a sweet and vulnerable school girl appeal that changes swiftly with a whiff of fresh blood. But she’s no animalistic vampire, she’s a woman in charge of her desires, as overpowering as they can sometimes be.
Between Arash’s old-fashioned principles, and the girl’s progressive (especially by Iranian ideals) position of power—exemplified by her murder of a man who had just before his death exploited a prostitute before leaving her in the dust penniless—the cultural censure is clear. Amirpour is transparent with her reversals, self-aware even, poking fun by dressing Arash in a Dracula costume when he first meets the girl, assuring her she has nothing to fear.
Lyle Vincent’s cinematography is as wide as any screen comes, capturing minute details in every two-tone high-contrast frame. Produced by Elijah Wood among others (well, he is a DJ and the soundtrack is phenomenal, maybe indie-music insiders really do all know each other), the film is written by Amirpour and one of the few things I might criticize her for is leaning a bit heavily on her visuals. Luckily, said visuals are so impressive they distract from any realizations that not only is dialogue between our romantic leads sparse, it’s almost non-existent, which makes the film’s ending seem slightly drastic, albeit not unsatisfying. My other complaint is a lack of backstory on this elusive and nameless “girl,” but ask and ye shall receive. Amirpour has written a comic book chronicling life in Bad City before the events of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night to be simultaneously released with the film.
With all the charm of Amélie, all the horror of Nosferatu, all the youthful self-awareness of La Nouvelle Vague, and all the atmosphere of a black and white spaghetti western, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night manages to be a strong entry into any of the 6 or 7 genres and sub-genres it fits into. Captivating at every turn, watching the film is like seeing the birth of a trend come into style. Amirpour harnesses the essence of indie filmmaking in her début, showcasing an adroit and enticing talent the likes of which we don’t see every day.