This black and white Iranian vampire film has bite.
It turns out 2014 was an even better year for effortlessly cool, laconic vampire movies than I originally thought – Only Lovers Left Alive was one of the best pictures Jim Jarmusch has made in years, and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the feature debut from director Ana Lily Amarpour, is the announcement of a genuine talent. Credited as the “first Iranian vampire Western,” A Girl (hereby abbreviated) takes a handful of familiar elements (vampires, star-crossed lovers, drug addicts and pimps) and blends them together into something all-together new, no easy feat. With a peerless eye for shot composition – there are long shots here that took my breath away – and the ability to coax phenomenal performances out of her leads, Amarpour is a filmmaker whose upcoming work will be appointment viewing.
A Girl is set in a fictionalized version of Iran in a place called Bad City, a place whose drab uniformity and encroaching industrialization that will ring true to anyone who has spent time in the suburbs, with surrealist touches of death permeating the landscape at every turn (new bodies appear stacked in a nearby ditch nearly every morning is a strikingly morbid touch). We follow the intersecting stories of Arash (Arash Marandi), a young man tasked with caring for his heroin addict father and cat, and a mysterious young woman credited only as “The Girl” (Sheila Vand, iconic as all get out), a riot who keeps to the shadows. A tentative relationship is struck between the two, an unspoken desire to escape the oppressive climate of Bad City, the bond that guides them, alongside their shared love of music.
The Girl is a fantastic character, operating like a feminist guardian angel reclaiming the night from those who would mean to make it unsafe for women (there’s a relish with which she torments a cruel pimp in one memorable sequence), and Vand does an incredible job coaxing the dimensionality out of her character through side glances and body language, only deigning to speak when it’s absolutely necessary. Neither Arash nor The Girl are particularly moral beings – he steals for her a pair of earrings, she has that pesky habit of draining of victims of their life’s essence – but they share a willingness to put the past behind them, and the chemistry between the two is undeniable. Amarpour stages a meet-cute between the two quite unlike any other I’ve seen, a sequence that charms and unsettles in equal doses, a high-wire act that the film maintains for much of its running time. It’s more a movie about feeling and experience than anything particularly plot-driven, enveloping you in a mood that takes hold throughout the picture. Had I seen it in time, this would have certainly been amongst my favorite movies of 2014. As it stands, this is certain to be one of my favorite cinematic experiences of 2015.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night screens three times this weekend – tonight @ 7 p.m, Saturday @ 5 p.m. and Sunday @ 7 p.m. All screenings are free, and I highly recommend you check it out.