Runtime: 101 Minutes
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Stars: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh
By Becky Matthews
The fact that writer-director Ana Lily Armipour’s genre-hopping A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014) ranks so highly in ITOL’s top 50 films by women of the decade list is a testament to its originality, cult appeal, and fang-sharp social commentary.
Billed as an Iranian Vampire Western, and set in the fictional Bad City, it nods to a myriad of influences from classic horror and film noir, to Tarantino, comic books and David Lynch- clanking industrial images and sounds loom large and fever-dream music-sequences are woven throughout.
But for all its influences, the film is made in a voice that is clearly Armipour’s. Although it’s relatively sparse on dialogue, the cast is made up of Iranian and Iranian-American (reflecting Ana Lily Armipour’s own heritage) actors and they speak in Farsi.
The film shows rather than tells on the intersections of gender and class in this fictional version of contemporary Iran. A TV shows dated-looking infomercials cautioning women that their husbands may go off and find other women, or they might die young, and a rich woman exploits others for her own amusement.
What She Said:
“Like a mosaic of shimmering fragments that do not compose a bigger picture, Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature brims with stylised qualities that have been prioritised over story and characters.”
Horror and banality live side by side in Bad City. People hustle to survive and walk past a pit of bodies without pause. Supporting characters also serve as social observers, from the silent, transgender woman dancing to the boy with a skateboard, the sex-worker, Atti who doesn’t realise the stalking girl in a chador is a potential ally. And then there’s the all-seeing cat, unable to articulate all it has witnessed.
It’s a black and white film, and DOP Lyle Vincent’s widescreen framing tips its hat to Spaghetti westerns, while the shadows cast by chador-clad Girl nod to Nosferatu. The first time we meet her, she appears to almost float into shot as she stares down the pimp in his car.
The titular Girl (Sheila Vand) is aloof, living in the shadows. She has a taste for the blood of abusive men, like sleazy, drug-dealing pimp Saeed (Dominic Rains). There is a code to most of her kills, taking a big old bite out of the patriarchy does wonders for a restless vampire.
In one chilling scene Girl stalks a young boy, issuing a warning, fangs bared inches from his neck, voice deeper “I can take your eyes out of your skull and give them to the dogs to eat. Till the end of your life, I’ll be watching you”, she warns. She doesn’t live in fear in her society ruled by men, she weaponises it and survives on it.
At home, The Girl removes her chador, looks like a Europhile student: her hair loose in a sharp bob, she layers thick eyeliner on and wears Breton tops while listening to synth-pop. It’s unclear how long she’s been stalking the earth, but her room is a shrine to 80s pop culture.
Released the year after Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive”, there are parallels of Vampiric ennui in a fading city, but AGWAAN has a lot more depth and soul.
Even the title, with its suggestion of peril for the hooded woman, flips that damsel in distress narrative, the woman’s solitude gives her power – she makes direct eye contact with the men she passes in the street, and she watches their behaviour like a self-appointed bounty hunter.
What She Said:
“The Iranian skateboarding vampire feminist spaghetti western we have all been waiting for, creepy cool and gorgeously sinister, engorged with suspense and desire.”MaryAnn Johanson, Flick Filosopher
But this is also a love story. Eventually, Girl crosses paths with a boy: the innocent Arash (Arash Marandi) James Dean-styled guy with a 1950s Ford Thunderbird paid for by working for a wealthy family and dealing recreational drugs at clubs. They’re both lost souls, trying to escape their situations and craving connection.
Most of Arash’s hard-earned dough is spent dealing with his dad’s drug addiction, and Girl is hampered by the isolation that comes with being a Vampire. When they meet, Arash is dressed as Dracula, unaware that the mysterious woman he’s just met is hiding fangs you don’t buy in a fancy-dress shop.
Their blossoming romance is sweet, but never saccharine, the heart-pumping bass and lyrics of White Lies ‘Death’ underlying tensions between them in her room. In another exchange, he presents her with earrings, she offers her unpierced ears to him – it’s a vulnerable, intimate moment for both of them.
What She Said:
“Amirpour’s got a brilliant eye, conjuring images that are alternately creepy, beautiful and witty, just like her story, which also features homages to cinema’s past.”Laura Clifford, Reeling Reviews
What happens in Bad City has consequences for everyone, and it’s clear that hostilities have escalated for all inhabitants, mortal and immortal. It might be shot in black and white, but there are shades of grey in everything in this story.
“A Girl Walks Home at Night” pours fresh blood into old tropes, a highly entertaining genre film that leaves its mark long after the first viewing.
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