When I bought this DVD, the cover informed me that this was ‘The best vampire film ever made’. Wow, I thought, those are some very big shoes to fill. But this is no ‘Inteview with the Vampire’ or ‘Lost Boys’. It is a completely different beast. It doesn’t ever need the bloody shoes, it’s leaping gleefully barefoot into unchartered territory. Upon it’s release most critics agreed that Amirpour had invented a new genre altogether. The Iranian Vampire Western. Too niche, you ask? I mean, Katherine Bigelow already covered Vampire Western with ‘Near Dark’. But bear with me, it IS different, it totally works and it is amazing.
Shot entirely in black and white, it is set in ‘Bad City’, a fictional place in contemporary Iran. An industrial backdrop of oil fields and factories lend it a lonely, frontier town feeling. It is populated with pimps, drug dealers, prostitutes and junkies. Bodies lie rotting in open mass graves. Sheila Vand plays Girl, the cities avenging angel. A hipster vampire devouring pop culture in her basement who dons a chador at night and ventures out to terrorise the male inhabitants. Arash Marandi plays……… Arash, a lonely guy dealing with the death of his mother and the erratic behavior of his junkie father. This is the story of an unlikely love that transports them both into the unknown.
Sheila Vands Girl is one of the oddest vampires I’ve ever encountered. She is just as powerful and terrifying a presence as any of your favourite vampire characters. Her kills are lightning quick, brutal, vengeful blows. But despite never cracking the slightest smile, or uttering more than about 10 lines in the whole film, she is an undeniably playful character. Amirpour says that when she first tried on a chador, she immediately felt like a badass and wanted to go skateboarding in it. That experience has given life to one of my favourite scenes in this film where Girl cruises under the streetlights on her stolen skateboard, chador billowing behind her. It’s as though, after hundreds of years of living, she’s become so bored of the world and the depths of degradation humanity can sink to that the skateboard, and Arash, come as a complete surprise to her. She can’t quite organize her feelings but she’s willing to follow wherever they take her. I have a great affection for her.
Arash Marandi has been described as an Iranian James Dean but the smoldering eyes and all too earnest delivery made me think more of Nicolas Cage in Wild At Heart. So when I heard Amirpour was so obsessed with David Lynchs film that she’d channeled it in the making of ‘Girl’, I felt very smug indeed. His softness and sincerity is the perfect foil for Girls implacable silence. At their first meeting he is stumbling home from a costume party and is dressed as Dracula. The simplicity of it is perfect. Their burgeoning love is touching, electric, utterly compelling.
The other character definitely worth a mention is the local Pimp, Saeed. Dominic Rains has done an outstanding job of playing Amirpours charismatic, pumped up, misogynistic thug. He is intimidating but his sheer narcissism is kind of hilarious. And he gets his comeuppance in a scene that I like to think would make Feminist Film Theorist Barbara Creed do a little dance of excitement. Vand is the epitome of Creeds Monstrous Feminine or female castratrice. With the mirroring of a sex act performed on the lucky pimp earlier in the film, Vand suggestively sucks his finger before biting it clean off and taunting him with it before finishing him off on the floor of his plush apartment. Pure vampiric GENIUS.
In terms of style, theres a definite B movie/spaghetti western feel to it but it’s also incredibly ‘cool’ like a Tarantino movie. It’s weird and abstract in the way that a David Lynch film can be. It’s playfully grotesque in the way that a Tim Burton film can be. I also get glimpses of the New Queer Cinema director Greg Araki in the epically desolate, industrial landscapes. Amirpour has obviously had an absolute ball making this film and it shows. It’s a lot of fun to watch. There are loads of brilliant contemporary references. The spaghetti western music in particular, by Collin Hegna of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, sets a playfully disorientating tone.
Some critics have disputed the validity of calling this an Iranian movie when it was shot in California and produced by an American production company. But I feel this is just petty nit picking. Amirpour, daughter of Iranian immigrants, has made a film that mirrors her dual identity. It’s set in Iran, the dialogue is in Farsi and the actors are all of Iranian descent. But more importantly, Amirpour points out that there are very few films set in Iran, with Iranian characters that don’t just centre around the Iranian experience. She’s made a film, set in Iran, where the characters all just ARE Iranian and yet that is not the main focus. Just like American films don’t need to constantly examine the American experience.
In writing and directing ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’, Amirpour has created something totally unique, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I was constantly surprised by it, I laughed out loud, I leaned closer to the screen in wonder, I hid behind a pillow in suspense. It is surely destined for Cult Classic status. AND it passes the bechdel test. Total WIN.