Delving into the alienation of modern life, groundbreaking Iranian film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is so much more than just another vampire picture. It comes to The Byrd next week.
A melancholy romance draped in the atmosphere of 1950s noirs and 1960s spaghetti westerns, Ana Lili Amirpour’s 2014 directorial debut announced her as a powerful cinematic voice. From the moment Kiosk’s “Charkhesh E Pooch” starts playing, you’ll know that A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night isn’t going to unfold like anything else you will see during the Byrd Theatre’s Halloween-themed October lineup of programming. The third installment in their “Vampires” series, A Girl Walks Home is an engrossing tale of loneliness, revenge, and freedom.
A Girl Walks Home is a story about rage, framed by the extraction of oil, the struggles of the lower class, and the irresponsibility of government. Amirpour deftly distills these cumbersome issues to the small-scale exploits and excesses of men driven by their economic conditions and carnal desires. In the fictional Iranian locale of Bad City, people walk the streets, deal drugs, and get high under the silent, watchful eye of a lonely vampire, known only as The Girl. She rages against advantage, entitlement towards women, and, as evidenced by her encounter with a young boy she sees begging on the street, the promise that things will be this way forever. To The Girl (played by Sheila Vand), everyone in Bad City is out for themselves.
That is, until she meets Arash (Arash Marandi), a hardworking man who is also caring for his father Hossein (Marshall Manesh), who is addicted to heroin. The Girl first encounters Arash outside the home of Saeed (Dominic Rains), a drug dealer who’s previously stolen Arash’s car to in lieu of money Hossein owes him. When Arash first encounters the Girl, she has just finished feasting on Saeed’s blood. Their prolonged gaze betrays a mutual loneliness that only draws them closer together throughout the film.
When they find themselves together again, Arash is spiraling out of control like his junkie father before him, desperate for an escape from the never-ending cycle of drugs and addiction that plague Bad City. It’s a desperation reminiscent of James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, though Arash’s emotional restraint while dealing with his father’s drug-deprived vitriol underlines a responsibility with which Jim Stark never had to contend.
The Girl also senses his desperation, which is why she invites him back to her home. Under the light of a disco ball and accompanied by the pulsating freedom of “Death” by The White Lies, their loneliness morphs into a silent but mutual understanding. This scene feels like something out of a summertime teen romance. You can imagine in any other film, Arash and The Girl would be holding hands, running down the street in slow motion as they look behind them at a life they will soon leave behind. In The Girl’s room, the music fills every corner, yet their embrace is intimate, tense, and cathartic; shaped by Amirpour’s gentle, genre-bending touch, it feels revolutionary.
A Girl Walks Home conjures comparisons to a range of films from the vampire genre, from Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive to Karyn Kusama’s cult classic Jennifer’s Body. It combines the former’s sense of longing in an unforgiving world and the bonds that hold its lonely people together, while sprinkling in the latter’s catharsis of female revenge. Even with these cues, though, Amirpour manages to create something wholly original. So many of the most important emotional beats are accomplished with longing stares, and the story is moved along not just by meditative shots and crisp black and white photography, but also through a soundtrack so eclectic and alive it stands as its own piece of art.
The Girl acts as a transgressive femme fatale, whose interactions with most men bring about their downfall. She is also a steely-eyed law-woman on the lookout for malefactors taking advantage of the little guy. Bad City is a lawless land, and it’s thanks to the diligence of The Girl that the filth lining its streets is swept away. But her chance encounter with Arash, and their subsequent time together, makes her realize that she can also escape the loneliness of Bad City. She doesn’t have to take on the heavy responsibility of ridding the world of evil men; it shouldn’t solely be hers to bear in the first place.
Films driven more by their style and atmosphere are hard to sink your teeth into, and characters that merely exist in a stylized world without a propulsive narrative pushing them forward are hard to relate to. That is why, even though A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night feels long, it doesn’t drag; it doesn’t do any of the work for you. Its greatest strength is that it is completely unencumbered by the so-called boundaries of its genre. It not only works well as a horror film, but also reaches beyond that category.
The very first frame of this film tells you it isn’t going to conform to your expectations. The experience of watching it is rewarding because, just like The Girl and Arash, it finds freedom outside the confines of its prescribed limits and revels in every second of it.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is playing at The Byrd Theatre on Monday, October 21 at 7:15 PM. Tickets are $6 and can be purchased in advance at The Byrd’s website.