Running time: 99 minutes
Director: Ana Lilly Amirpour
Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Rome Shawano, Mozhan Marnò, Marshall Manesh and Dominic Rains.
(Belfast Film Festival Screening, Queen’s Film Theatre, 20/04/2015)
HOT on the heels (no pun intended) of Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behaviour, comes another movie with a female writer/director at its helm; billed as the first Iranian Vampire Western, Ana Lilly Amipour’s stylish black and white feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a wonderfully effective mash of various cinematic genres. It’s so effortlessly cool and accomplished; it’s hard to believe it’s her directorial debut.
Set in the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a sparsely populated ghost-town whose inhabitants are completely unaware that at night a vampire stalks their streets. Played by Sheila Vand, this lonesome individual, known only as the ‘girl’, prowls the darkened streets, cloaked in her hijab dishing out her unique brand of social justice; feeding on the bad guys and sparing those see deems to be good and worthy.
Vand gives a fantastic central performance; her character has so few lines of dialogue throughout the movie that she relies on her physicality to deliver such an effective onscreen performance. In a similar way to Robert Patrick in Terminator 2, she does so much by doing so little as she quietly slinks across the screen.
Her character is immensely lonely; her only real escape from her loneliness comes from listening to her record collection, but after a late-night encounter with Arash (Arash Marandi), ironically dressed as Dracula when they first meet, these two restless souls have an instant connection and a blossoming relationship soon develops. Arash wants to escape the horrors of Bad City, but he’s shackled to it by the commitment of care to his heroin-addicted father, he finds himself oddly drawn to this mysterious girl, excited at the possibly of escaping the mundane and finding some sort of happiness.
Wisely Amipour doesn’t overpopulate the narrative with an abundance of needless dialogue; she allows the film’s stunning visuals to do all it’s talking. Many moments will linger in the memory, long after viewing this feature; such as a brilliantly bizarre sequence in which we see the girl skateboarding down a darkened street, her hijab fluttering in the wind like a vampire’s cape behind her. It’s such a simple, throw away little sequence; yet it’s so wonderfully effective.
But for all the film’s accomplished visuals and lush cinematography, I was still left slightly underwhelmed by its actual story. Based on a short that Amipour wrote and directed herself in 2011, it felt like during the expansion from a short into a full feature, Amipour threw a lot of needless characters and stories into the mix to bulk it up. Characters like the beautiful young girl, Shaydah (Rome Shawano) and an ageing prostitute played by Mozhan Marnò, seemingly exist only to move the plot along and distract from the central storyline.
The film is at its at most effective when it’s dealing with the pseudo-romance between the main characters. There are some beautifully tender exchanges between the two, particularly a sequence where later on where they quietly sit together listening to music beneath a rotating disco ball. Tenderly embracing Arash, Vander’s character listens to his heart softly beating , it’s a stomach churning sequence in which she ultimately decides his fate, whether he’s worthy of her companionship or merely a late-night snack.
Viewers hoping for an outright gorefest will be left severely disappointed by this feature, much like Tomas Alfredson’s fantastic Let the Right One, the fact that the girl is a vampire is almost irrelevant to the film’s story. She’s simply a lonely individual craving companionship and Arash is simply trying to escape this crime-ridden town. They’re both imperfect, their relationship can’t really last (or so it may seem), but for a brief moment they find a way to make each other that little bit happier and their lives more bearable.
Although it does relatively very little new within the confines of either the Vampire or Western genre, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night still manages to feel fresh and new. It’s the kind of film Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez could only ever dream of making when they set out upon their Grindhouse project. Amipour has such a clear understanding of the genres she’s referencing and manages to couple them together onscreen so effortlessly. She’s an exciting new directorial talent and I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.