When one thinks about the current state of Iranian cinema, one thinks of intimate and deeply introspective meditations on family life in a nation of strict gender roles rooted in generations old traditions or political musings in response to a regime with a penchant for snuffing out dissident voices. One of world cinema’s most fruitful landscapes, Iran has become a hot bed for some of the most intriguing pieces of cinema to hit theaters over the last decade or so. And now its time a bit of genre cinema hits the Iranian New Wave.
Coming from first time writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a film that may have a simplistic plot but defies all description. Ostensibly a vampire film rooted in spaghetti western bombast and graphic novel aesthetics, this horror/drama introduces us to a place known as Bad City, a seedy ghost town run by pimps, drug dealers, and even home to a lonely vampire. While it is set, seemingly, in Iran, the film was shot in California so there is a distinctly urban and industrial physicality to the picture, and the noirish aesthetic here is an interesting stylistic choice to tell this tale of Arash, a down on his luck youngster with an affinity for music you likely never heard of. With a junkie for a father, and a drug dealer snatching his car as payment for his father’s debt, he is opposite a quiet young woman simply known as The Girl, the character for which this film is titled. It’s a narrative that is painted in very broad strokes, and with this obtusely drawn story comes a film that is both free of any comparison, and yet perfectly based in genre tropes.
Stylistically, the film is rooted in the very base ideas of so many genres that, while it appears to be a cliche-ridden piece of work, it instead meshes these tropes and cliches into something entirely singular and unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Amirpour’s film is clearly influenced by everything from Frank Miller comic books to Iranian New Wave discussions of misogyny, from spaghetti western sonic bombast to Lynchian neo-noir, turning itself into a black and white experiment in genre. Best described as a vampire romance western, even that doesn’t get to the true heart of this film’s originality, finding Amirpour to have an assured hand mixing these genres into a film that is entirely her own. Gorgeously shot in black and white, the film is an expressionist thriller that may be light on thrills, at least of the horror variety, but more than makes up for it in those brought upon a viewer by the director’s choices behind the camera.
Performance-wise, the film is relatively standard. The characters here aren’t given all that much to do, but performances from names like Arash Marandi and Sheila Vand are all uniformly fantastic. Vand is of particular note as her performance is the most varied and ultimately the film’s most emotionally rewarding. Mozhan Marno as the pimp Saeed is a campy delight, and Marshall Manesh as Arash’s junkie father Hossein is hearthbreaking. That being said, it’s not a real actor showcase, so while they are solid turns, it’s more so a mood piece, and one can’t argue with a picture with this assured a hand with regards to that aspect.
And while it’s not a thematically dense picture, it does carry with it something deeper for those interested in digging their teeth in a tad more. The drug use here is an interesting aspect within the context of this vampire narrative. Drug use itself isn’t anything rare when discussing vampire allegories (or films about youthful malaise for that matter), but the beauty that Amirpour gives the film is both heartbreaking and breathlessly alluring. Also, the use of music here is startlingly fantastic. While Amirpour and her film have drawn comparisons to Jim Jarmusch and his 2014 vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive in that both films almost come to a complete halt to bask in a certain musical choice, this film is in fact influenced by Jarmusch, but is far different in its execution. Interested in an exploration of genre more than vampire mythos like Jarmusch’s picture, Girl is a deliciously expressionistic piece of work.
Overall, genre hounds will find more than enough to dig into here, and those interested in a film so vastly different then the rest of its Iranian New Wave brethren need to make this film a priority. Currently running the arthouse circuit, this is one of 2014’s great underrated gems and will hopefully find an audience as it hits more cinemas.