For those readers who aren’t familiar with Iranian history pre-revolution, the Iranian film industry was a booming and very much respected business. Much of the innovative and ground breaking directors are now either under threat of death if they make another movie or have left the country all together. That doesn’t mean, however, that excellent filmmakers from Iran have stopped trying to put their work out there. Case and point, Ana Lily Amirpour’s take on the classic European nightmare dweller, seducer in the night, with a distinctively Iranian framework.
Let’s take a look at this Iranian vampire flick, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.
The film itself is plotless in the sense that things happen, but the things that happen aren’t really the things that matter narratively. In Bad City, a young vampiric woman goes around attacking bad people in the town, and befriends the local prostitute. At the same time, a young man deals with his father’s drug addiction debts and his incredible loneliness. The two meet, and through drunken conversation, cool music, and a desire to stave off the loneliness and ugliness of the world, fall in love…or at least in something like it. Things get complicated when the vampire kills the young man’s father, who forces the prostitute to take drugs in an attempt to have someone else join in his self destruction, and the vampire’s paramour finds out.
I have always hated it when critics say that a movie is “all atmosphere” because while mood is important to a film, so it plot. Thus, when someone proclaims it’s “all atmosphere” I have to believe its 0 plot and therefore, mostly uninteresting. If I wanted atmosphere-only, I’d listen to weird post-rock bands. So, instead, I will say that this film is a mood-heavy piece. So mood heavy that the title character has no name, and there are little to few consequences, or even backstory. We are just meant to sit back and ingest what is being presented to us at face value, something most films wouldn’t dare ask an audience to do. I’m sure there are larger ideas and symbols at play which I am totally missing but looking at it like a piece of capital-a “Art” it does elicit a lot of different emotions, specifically melancholia and isolation. Did I mention its all in black and white?
“How did this movie get made in Iran?” you might be wondering. It actually didn’t, for very obvious reasons, and was shot in the U.S. Just because it was shot in America doesn’t mean at its heart and soul its not Iranian. The film was shot in Persian, with Iranian actors, by an Iranian director in a setting that is clearly supposed to represent Iran, in a state with a sizable Persian population. You can either have edgy film-making or you can film on location when it comes contemporary Iranian film — you’re definitely not allowed to do both. The film is also classified as a Western, so it blends elements of both cultures’ cinemas and tropes to a very smooth and unique effect.
The acting is standard for a good film — none of them were bad per se but no one stood out especially. Netflix junkies might recognize Mozhan Maron, who plays the prostitute Atti, as Ayla Sayyad from House of Cards, and Marshall Manesh, the drug addicted father, is better known as the shrill-voiced vaguely Middle Eastern pirate lord from Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End. Sheila Vand, who played the vampire, is by far the best performance, with her aloofness and attempts to be strong and cool in a world that demands both but is continually in short supply.
The cinematography plays into a big part of the cool and dark atmosphere, but more than anything it’s the music that takes this film from good to amazing. If you’re into Iranian rock (and let’s be honest, why wouldn’t you?) this is going to be a blast but for those less familiar with the music, it’s overall effect on the movie is pretty noticeable, making it a clash between film noir/beatnik aesthetics and punk/rock sound. The shadow work is also great, and the film is shot, for the most part, in such a way that makes the beginning suspenseful before subtly shifting into more artsy.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night might not be your tradition vampire fare, but it’s got a lot of the same tropes. The dark and mysterious aura, the love story, the revenge plots, the shadows and vague sense of danger — it’s more Western than you’d think but it remains settled into an Iranian sense of culture and style. If you’re looking to impress your hipster friends, or just want to experience a true vampire movie where no one sparkles or has existential monologues, this is the film for you.
– Excellent soundtrack.
– Gorgeous cinematography.
– Good acting.
– Can be a little lacking in plot.
– Suspense disappears after first third of film.