Any film that is categorized as a ‘feminist-Iranian-vampire-Western’ is definitely worth a watch. I’m not sure if you can accurately slot A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night into any of these genres, but it sure as hell uses each of them to create a completely unique experience. Director Ana Lily Amirpour is relatively new to the feature film world (this being her first) and A Girl completely embodies the freshness of a young filmmaker whilst embarking on an incredible journey through the cinema of yesterday. Did I mention it’s also inherently feminist?
A Girl is the story of Bad City, a place where drug use, prostitution and criminal activities are widespread. Arash, our male protagonist, looks after his elderly father who is suffering from a severe heroin addiction. Through Arash we meet certain inhabitants of Bad City, but none more important than The Girl (as credited, played by Sheila Vand) who, it turns out, is actually a vampire. Predominantly hunting the men of the city, she stalks and kills those who abuse and mistreat women. Arash meets The Girl by chance, and instead of performing her usual ritual, the two of them strike up a strange and uncanny friendship. There is, of course, an undeniably similarity to Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One in. Both vampires are isolated, young and both find ‘love’ with an innocent. However, A Girl, as well as crossing over many genres, is atypical in its approach to the ‘vampire film’. It’s tongue in cheek funny, and charming too. I guess you can’t really avoid that when your protagonist is a skateboarding vampire and the local misogynist has SEX tattooed on his neck.
Let’s talk genre. A Girl is a genre film, it’s just one that hasn’t really been invented yet. Amirpour routinely employs wides and extreme close ups of eyes and lips which are immediate throwbacks to Hollywood Westerns. We also often see the characters stood in the face off positions; either end of the frame in profile. The Girl is almost a lone ranger, sworn to protect women and to ensure that others get their comeuppance. Even the soundtrack features a song that genuinely could have been in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. We actually had to google it to make sure it wasn’t. Although the film itself, visually and location wise, couldn’t look less like the West – it’s the Western cinematography that helps establish it as a modern day Western. A Girl could also sit quite happily under the Film Noir label – the use of shadows and lighting to create tension is a technique used time and time again in noir films of the 40s and 50s. The majority of A Girl is set at night hence there is a lot of opportunity to play with the lighting, specifically street lamps as spotlights. The Girl darts silently in and out of shadows; our protagonist and also our killer.
Above all, though, A Girl is inescapably a feminist film. How can it not be? Aside from the obvious (it’s literally about a young woman making punishing men for being awful) it’s a huge statement on the position of women in Iran. The status of Iranian women is something which is in a constant state of flux, and A Girl mirrors this. The Girl’s actions subvert the patriarchal society which dictates that women should be scared to walk home alone at night, by ensuring that the streets are unsafe for men. Particularly poignant is the moment when The Girl meets Saeed – the unpleasant misogynist who believes women should be subservient to him. Without spoiling anything, she certainly gives him a taste of his own medicine. A Girl has no time for gendered violence, if the streets aren’t safe for women, then neither can they be for men. The exchange between The Girl and Atti (the incredible Mozhan Marnȯ) goes beyond the generic cinema stereotype of prostitution. Their conversation extends to Atti’s dreams and realisations. And yes, A Girl does pass the Bechdel test. In terms of costume, the Girl wears a hijab-cape, black, which flows around her neck as she descends on the town. Her outfit is intrinsically female – her hijab makes this clear. The hijab is used, not as a way of differentiating male from female, but as a way of intimidating those that cross her. Visually, it’s incredibly striking.
Speaking of visuals, the cinematography is flawless. The choice of black and white, though I imagine was used for cost effectiveness, is very brave and completely pays off. Allusions to the shape of fangs through the power plant machinery, extended shot length and the extreme focus shifts all play into the uncomfortable territory the film enters. Within the narrative you’re never sure what exactly is happening, and the cinematography reflects this. One particular sequence sticks in mind; Arash and the Girl in her bedroom, Arash moves towards her in slow motion as Death by White Lies plays in the background. It’s a fantastic suggestion of ‘East meeting West’.
The only, and I mean the only, fault with A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is that it is slightly too long. The running time is around 100 minutes, which isn’t OTT, but at points it does feel drawn out. There are moments where the camera lingers a little too long, and moments where it feels like nothing is really moving forward. My attention wandered at a few points, but for the most part I felt engaged and intrigued. In an age where we have done, done and DONE the vampire genre to death, it’s hard to imagine that there is another one out there worth seeing. The thing is, A Girl doesn’t hinge on being a vampire film, it’s almost a happy coincidence that the Girl has retractable teeth that can kill on command. Typically, she’s an anti hero. She’s not a brooding sort (think ‘Twilight’) and she certainly doesn’t embody the traditional blood lust that we’ve seen in films from Van Helsing to Only Lovers Left Alive. Her vampire-ism seems to be second to her need to protect and her need to equal the balance between good and evil. In her own way, of course.
Also A+++++ soundtrack. I’ve been listening to it for hours.