The centerpiece of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the titular character, a “lonesome vampire” (from the film’s official descriptions) who stalks a sparse Iranian town called Bad City.
This particular vampire is neither the stiff, bloodshot-eyed Dracula type, nor the pale yet sparklingly beautiful undead of Twilight: for one, she wears a chador, an encompassing piece of clothing traditionally worn by Muslim women, although she wears it loosely, as if it was a cape, and underneath she sports modern Western garments.
This Girl also prefers to prowl the streets at night on a skateboard. In her basement dwelling, a comfortably hip room full of art, she listens to Lionel Richie and house electronic music.
“Weird,” was one of my friends’ summary comments on the film, as we came out of the film’s screening in the recently-concluded 2015 Quezon City International Film Festival. I partly agree to this descriptor, though some synonyms describe the film better: eerie, bizarre, unsettling.
The weirdness is, in retrospect, largely cultural. Going into the cinema, we were thinking, “This is an Iranian film.” (Interestingly, the film is in fact shot in California, and I am somewhat disappointed that I did not get to see real Persian landscapes through this film. Bad City features shots of oil field pumpjacks, a power plant, and trains—I was convinced I was looking at Iran.) Hence, we went in expecting a turbulent reconciliation of popular-culture vampire movie types and Iran’s notoriously conservative culture.
Instead, we were treated with a moody film, told at a contemplative pace, and beautifully captured in black-and-white. In terms of story, A Girl offers a minimum serving of narrative, involving romance, drugs, prostitution, pseudo-vigilantism, family issues, and of course, horror. There is sufficient material here to be mined for moral discussions, but such activity seems to be discouraged by the film’s focus on atmosphere, and its deliberately restrained narrative pace. A Girl would rather have you savor its slow, seductive texture, rather than remind you of the evils of drugs.
(Regardless, some of the film’s power comes from strong ironies in the relationships of its limited ensemble. Bad City is a ghost town, a city in decay, and it plays host to a delightful chain of interactions between a young man, his father, his socialite employer, a kid, a pimp, a prostitute, a vampire—and a cat. This is a story fully about the underbelly of society.)
The film is a terrific success, even if it achieves only one effect, albeit one that is uniquely cinematic in domain: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night expands our imagination, and through a brooding, skateboarding, chador-clad vampire, adds to our personal collections of unforgettable images.
When the credits started to roll after I saw the film myself, I knew that I have just witnessed something that will occupy a lonesome, strange corner of my cinematic memory for many years to come.
About the filmmaker
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. There is a wonderful sketch about this filmmaker and her film written by Danny Leigh for The Guardian: “The skateboarding Iranian vampire diaries”.