The image of a girl vampire, captured in black-and-white, smokey eyes and dark lips, sweeping downhill on a skateboard in the middle of the night, her black Iranian chandor flowing behind her, is not easily forgotten. It’s also easy to read the image as a feminist one: a re-appropriation of the traditional Iranian cloak worn by women. But this is not how director Ana Lily Amirpour sees it, explained Black Sheep editor Virginie Selavy introducing the film at this year’s Flatpack Festival. Instead, Amirpour, who is also releasing a series of new graphic novels to accompany the film, visualises the long black chador as akin to a superhero cape.
Even so, her debut feature A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night has clear feminist threads. The Girl (Sheila Vand) preys on men and, on more than one occasion, is able to get close to her victims precisely because of her supposedly gentle gender. The film toys with our own expectations of women too. A threatening confrontation with a little boy is all the more shocking because our vampire is female. Amirpour knows it, lingering on the boys naive trust before unleashing Girl’s ferocity.
Of Iranian descent but born and raised in Los Angeles, Amirpour’s Iran is a product of imagination: a place to project her thoughts and ideas. Bad City is rife with drugs and thriving nightclubs. Bodies lie in a ditch on the town’s outskirts. In the background industry is flourishing. American influences are everywhere, from the James Dean inspired Arash (Arash Marandi), who becomes Girl’s bittersweet love interest, to the posters of Madonna on Girl’s bedroom wall. Amirpour’s film is a stylish affair, the blend of Americana with traditional Iranian dress and Farsi dialogue is unlike anything else in cinema. In A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Amirpour has created something wholly unfamiliar and utterly seductive.
Selavy likens the film to Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive and Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In: a melancholy vampire film that uses the vampire character as a way of capturing the loneliness and difficulty of the human condition. Dressed in sneakers with a fascination for punk rock, Girl doesn’t fall easily into a vampire stereotype and neither does Amirpour’s film. Its influences are multifarious and the result is a kind of Iranian vampire western meets coming of age romance. Grotesque scenes of horror give way to moments of bottled-up, emotional distance. Suppressing feeling, unable to communicate, Girl and Arash listen to music in her room. It’s a long take and as Arash moves closer to her, the loneliness is palpable. She rests her head on his chest, the sound of his heartbeat booming over the record.
In the film’s rebellious fusion of genres, music is paramount. Amirpour possesses a Tarantino style flair for it, blending Italian western, British punk and Iranian pop. The soundtrack, like that for Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011), has a transformational power: the capacity to transport us back to its vivid filmic moments. It has the potential to become iconic.
So too does Amirpour’s entire film. Its lure is in no small part due to Lyle Vincent’s irresistible black-and-white cinematography. Vincent’s command of light and shadows is breathtaking. Girl sinks into the darkness or appears like a spectre against brilliant white street lights, stalking her victims from across the pavement and imitating their movements like their own reflection. At one moment Vincent’s exceptional use of zoom tells its own story about the changing city, taking our eyes through foliage to see the oil wells beyond. In the next, he lavishes Arash’s shiny, vintage Ford with emphasis. It’s a loved and coveted object, the product of diligence and perseverance, taking Arash 2,191 days to earn. In the hands of Vincent, it’s not just cool but a symbol of hope and ambition.
Like the vampires of legend, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night has a mesmeric power. The whole film feels like a trance, a dreamscape. Like a dream, Amirpour leaves many questions unanswered, distilling the film’s ambiguities into Arash’s cat, which, in the film’s final scene, takes on as great a significance as its two leads. This eerie, open-ended finale demands we watch again; Amirpour has enticed us into an idiosyncratic world we may never want to leave. When our vampire comes face to face with the image of Dracula the contrast is stark. Girl is something new.
A Girls Walks Home Alone At Night was screened at the 2015 Flatpack Film Festival. It is due for cinema release in the UK on 22nd May.