A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (Ana Lily Amirpour)
New Directors/New Films opened this year with Amirpour’s debut feature, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and comes attached with a neat, provocatively intriguing description: it’s “the Iranian feminist vampire/spaghetti western movie.” As that tagline indicates, this film wears its influences firmly on its sleeve, and – pardon the pun – deeply in its veins. Set in an imaginary Iranian town called Bad City (but actually shot in California), stylish, high-contrast black-and-white imagery grace the seedy, noirish milieu depicted here, a town full of pimps, prostitutes, and junkies. Struggling to maintain his humanity in this atmosphere, as well as trying to find a way to blow town, is Arash (Arash Marandi), a handsome, James Dean type who rides around in a vintage car. Despite his coolness, he is addled by two older men who cramp his style: a junkie dad and a dealer/pimp who holds the debt Arash’s father owes over the son, and takes the car as payment.
Nocturnally haunting Bad City is the titular “girl” (Shiela Vand), who affords the film its unique image of a hijab-wearing vampire who rides a skateboard in search of her prey. But unlike others, this is a vampire with a conscience: she attacks men who exploit and abuse women, a sort of feminist vigilante. This activity becomes complicated when she meets Arash and becomes attracted to him. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is nothing if not stylish, and studiedly cool; Lyle Vincent’s cinematography and Sergio De La Vega’s production design are as much a star attraction as the actors, if not more so. However, outside of the novelty of its premise, the film doesn’t offer much more of substance; it’s so obsessed with its own coolness, irreverence, and taboo-breaking in an Iranian context (with its crime ridden milieu and brief nudity), that we are always kept at a remove. Also, once the novelty wears off, the film becomes draggy and thematically repetitive. Still, this debut feature marks the arrival of a promising talent.