Recommended Viewing Situation:
Rocking out to Dancing Girls by Farah in your room and contemplating eternity.
Running Time: 101 minutes.
Format: SxS Pro Digital.
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour.
Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour.
Cinematographer: Lyle Vincent.
Awards: Special Mention at Bucharest International Film Festival (Ana Lily Amirpour), Revelations Prize at Deauville Film Festival, Best Cinematography at Dublin International Film Festival (Lyle Vincent), among others.
Trigger Warning: This film contains an instance of forced drug use.
It’s about a vampire. It’s sooo romantic. It’s definitely nothing like Twilight (2008). Yes, it’s the Iranian Vampire Western you never knew you needed, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). Someone remarked to me that the film put style before substance. I have to disagree – the style is the substance, and this film is dripping with style right from the opening, when we first see Arash Marandi, dubbed the “Persian James Dean,” for obvious reasons. This title is a good indicator of the way writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour cuts and pastes Iranian and Western pop culture, politics and pulp, vampire folklore and real-life monsters. The number of pop culture references is seemingly endless, from the name of the town the film is set in – Bad City, an echo of Frank Miller’s Sin City (2005) – to drug-dealing pimp Saeed’s (Dominic Rain) appearance, based heavily on Die Antwoord’s Ninja, to the ‘80s pop posters on the eponymous Girl’s (Sheila Vand) wall (these are multi-layered; Amirpour didn’t want to pay to use official images of stars. Instead, if you look closely, you’ll see that what appears to be a poster of Madonna is in fact author Margaret Atwood. Elijah Wood, who helped produce the film, is one of the Bee Gees.). Amirpour doesn’t hide the fact that her work is influenced by others. David Lynch’s style, for example, is evident throughout the film. But this is not to say that Amirpour didn’t put plenty of work in herself. If, despite a lack of character exposition and dialogue, The Girl seems like a remarkably complete and natural character, this is because Amirpour wrote 180-odd years of backstory for her in timelines and in the graphic novels she has written about the character.
This lack of character exposition is refreshing in a vampire film. Traditionally, there is an exhaustive recounting of the folklore we are all already familiar with: they can’t go out in sunlight, they’re repelled by garlic, blah blah. In A Girl, we see Vand applying make-up without a mirror, a reference to the lore stating that vampires have no reflection which is so subtle I almost didn’t notice it. Amirpour trusts us to keep up, so there is no time wasted on banalities.
One of my favourite things about this film is the way Amirpour incorporates Iranian culture into Vampire film tradition. The chador-as-cape is iconic; not only is it a lot of fun – the image of Vand rolling down the street on a skateboard, chador flapping behind her, an expression of Madonna-like serenity on her face, brought me a great deal of joy – it also takes the chador, often viewed in the West as a symbol of oppression, and transforms it into one of strength. Though Amirpour doesn’t like to label A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night as a feminist film, in my mind it is undoubtedly related to the Reclaim the Night movement. The name of the film speaks to a fear which all women share; one which is turned on its head as we see the aura of power which Vand emits as The Girl and the discomfort her presence causes the men around her. Having witnessed the abuse of a sex worker by Saeed, The Girl singles him out as a victim. When the unlucky Arash finds him, we fear he might be mistaken as the killer, but there is no law in Bad City. Instead, it’s the start of a tender romance steeped in nostalgia. There are too many touching asides and moments of beauty in the film to recount here; I can only urge you to watch it if you want to relive that first-love feeling.