Seen: At the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.
Sometimes a movie can intrigue based solely on descriptors used when people talk about it. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is summed up as “the first Iranian vampire western;” it is made by a woman, and it is also shot in black and white, and it is also a sexy romance. Also also rock and roll. So, naturally, I eagerly awaited its release, and finally finally caught a showing at Coolidge Corner, in their ultra-tiny screening room that seats 14 people, and lo, it was good. Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, the film follows the goings-on of a small, sad town called Bad City, whose denizens are lost and lonely, whose streets harbor a silent killer, a vampire who stalks repugnant men. Played by Sheila Vand, she never reveals her name, nor are her origins or motives ever made clear, but for one reason or another she drops her guard with Arash (Arash Marandi), a shy gardener-turned-drug dealer who is struggling to take care of his junkie father. The two embark on a tentative romance while she continues to secretly slay and he deals with complications of his own.
With a lingering, intimate visual style capitalizing on the deep shadows and ambiguous grays of her black and whit palette, Amirpour imbues her film with a quiet cool reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch. Her characters listen to hip lo-fi rock records, they choose to stare meaningfully instead of fill up the air with too much talk, they are troubled and interesting. The Iranian setting only legitimizes their coolness, as their music and style and dgaf attitudes seem to stand in for a kind of anti-authoritarianism. The two leads are both drop-dead gorgeous, and it would be easy to forgo any illusion of depth and simply focus on the will-they-or-won’t-they conflict of these pretty young people, ignoring culturally-specific trappings and horror undertones, but Amirpour doesn’t quite let us get away so easily. Through the character of The Girl she creates a sly commentary on female stereotypes- on victimhood, sexuality, passivity, and agency. The Girl is formidable but vulnerable, approaching her unsuspecting male targets directly, using their own predatory and presumptuous attitudes against them. She is lonely and a little sad, observing those around her from afar, working to protect women like Atti (Mozhan Marnò), a frustrated but resilient sex worker who in turn sees The Girl as a strange young woman who needs guidance. She is powerful and cryptic, flying down the street on a skateboard with her chador billowing around her like a superhero cape. Her clothes are a uniform, a black chador opened to reveal a chic striped t-shirt, black pants, and sneakers, representing the clash of cultures and influences experienced by Amirpour and other Iranian-Americans. She herself was raised in California, feeling “really Iranian” at home but not anywhere else, and for her the film (which was shot in her home town of Bakersfield, CA) was a chance to make her own Iran “that was as Iranian as we are, which is a mash-up of so many things.”
I will not pretend to know a lot about Iranian culture or norms, I’m sure several details and nuances in the film were lost on me as an outsider. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night can likely be enjoyed on multiple levels depending what you bring to it. I brought with me my love of genre films, female protagonists, vampire stories, international cinema, and black and white cinematography, along with my interest women filmmakers and immediate attraction to the two stars. And I walked away supremely satisfied.
Pair This Movie With: Easily Only Lovers Left Alive, since we’re keeping it Jarmuschian, and really can’t we just bask in the glow of 2014’s overall vampire cool? Alternatively, if you’re less into romantic vampirism and more into weird mash-up westerns that transcend “foreign film” conventions, there’s Sukiyaki Western Django, an English-language western set in Japan from maverick filmmaker Takashi Miike.