Movie night: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014
Why I chose it: I'm not big on vampire films, but my colleague Rob recommended it and he's always been right. Plus I read a review on Bitch, and come on the poster looks pretty neat doesn't it?
What it is about: Presented as "The first Iranian vampire Western", as Wikipedia says, this description couldn’t be more accurate. Arash, a rockabilly James Dean lookalike who drives a shiny 1950s car, is struggling to balance his life between a variety of odd jobs and paying up drug-dealing pimp Saeed to cover for his father’s heroin addiction. When Arash goes to Saeed’s apartment to get his car back, which Saeed has taken as a pledge, he bumps into The Girl leaving the place. Without questioning why her t-shirt is splattered with blood, he just proceeds to find that Saeed has been murdered, then grabs a briefcase full of money and drugs and leaves. Next time we meet him he’s selling ecstasy in a nightclub dressed up as Dracula. Having taking a pill himself, he ends up wandering the night streets, lost. And he runs into The Girl again. This lonely silent girl is not your regular vampire. Underneath her black chador, which serves as a cape more than as a religious reference, she wears a stripy top and sneakers, and roams the night roads on a skateboard. When she’s not out there creeping people out and sucking their blood, she spends her time sporting a classy dark bob and dancing alone in her apartment. To me The Girl bears a singular resemblance to Mia Wallace, and generally I found quite a few Pulp Fiction references throughout the film. Maybe it’s just me, however this is how director Ana Lily Amirpour showed up at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival:
Set in a dystopian imaginary Iranian underworld referred to as Bad City, another strong allusion that immediately comes to mind is Frank Miller’s Sin City: black and white sceneries, loud cigarette puffs, pimps, drugs (“This pill is nothing without you”) - although definitely calmer, slower, and not with the same amount of splatter. (Fun fact: a graphic novel also exists and I can’t wait to get my paws on it.)
It was edifying to watch a film where the only vampire character is a woman, especially because she’s not portrayed as the typical sensual, provocative female inspiring lust and carnal pleasure. The Girl’s character is always covered up, often quiet and almost withdrawn. This doesn’t mean she’s not powerful, though: along with potentially being able to suck you dry, she also occasionally plays the role of the Good Samaritan (i.e. helping prostitute Atti realise she does no longer know what desire is). The Girl is somebody who speaks probably less than a hundred words in the whole movie but still orchestrates the scene and gives a burst of feminism in what is portrayed as a patriarchal society ruled by generic male assumptions (“Women want kids, don’t they?”).
One theme the film doesn’t cover is religion/politics: the chador the Girl wears simply works as a cape, it’s not politicised and doesn’t serve any purpose other than adding to the vampire’s spooky look. I enjoyed the fact that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not a pretentions movie: it does touch upon many subjects but at the same time it is essentially a horror film, and a brilliant never-seen-before one, as it manages to mix a classic idea (the vampire) with elements of irony and fun (The Girl pushing a stoned Arash in a Dracula costume on a skateboard) and symbolism (can somebody explain to me the trans woman waltzing with a balloon scene?), all set in an indeterminate context (the film was shot in California but is supposedly set in an imprecise Middle East).
Would I recommend it: Yes, but be ready to check Wikipedia after you've watch it - I'd be surprised if you grasped the whole meaning straight away. And don't forget to check out the soundtrack, that's pretty cool too!