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.
It isn’t referenced much in any well-informed critical “film” discussions. It isn’t typically put forth as a shining example of 80s cinema, or women-directed cinema, or Madonna-starring cinema. It probably isn’t used in many film classes. It isn’t especially well-remembered today, except as a kind of style footnote within the singer’s long and storied career. And yet, I would easily count Desperately Seeking Susan among my favorite films. And I consider it Important.
Inspired by the actual historical figure of Queen Christina, colorful and controversial queen of Sweden from 1633-1654, Queen Christina begins with the title character’s assumption of her throne at the age of 6, after her father is killed in battle during the Thirty Years’ War. She grows up a serious, studious woman who feels more comfortable in men’s clothes and devotes her rare solitary hours to reading classic literature and plays. She dedicates herself fully to being a good ruler, though after years of war over religion in Europe she questions the benefits of it versus the cost. She hopes to see her country move past violent conflict and instead establish itself as a new cultural center.
When quiet, respectable anthropologist Dr Hess Green (Duane Jones) takes on a new assistant, George Meda (Bill Gun), he unwittingly changes the course of their lives. Though amiable and talkative, Meda is neurotic and suicidal, and prone to violent moods. One night, he accidentally attacks Green, stabbing him with an ancient dagger taken from the (fictional) Mythrian tribe. Meda soon after kills himself, while Green is left cursed with a hunger for blood and apparent immortality. Fearful of persecution (he’s the only black person in his wealthy neighborhood), he hides Meda’s body and claims his assistant ran away. But when Meda’s long-suffering wife, Ganja (Marlene Clark) shows up looking for him, Green’s secrets can’t help but tumble out.
Born out of wedlock in the 1760s to a black slave mother and a wealthy white ship captain, young Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) did not have a simple life to look forward to. When her mother died, her father (Matthew Goode) claimed her as his own and left her with her great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), a highly influential judge in Britain, and his wife (Emily Watson). She was raised alongside their other ward, Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), another niece around the same age. By the time they are teenagers, the cousins are as close as sisters, but each finds herself in an uncertain position- one social, one economic.