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Thursday
Oct 22 2015

Women's Pictures - Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Let's be honest: as of 2014,the vampire sucked.Over its 150+ year history,the vampire has evolved from the exotic,erotic monster of Le Fanu'sCarmillaand Stoker'sDracula,to Lugosi's low budget lothario,to the dangerously sexy rebels ofThe Lost Boys,to the brooding romantics of Anne Rice and Joss Whedon,to the defanged teenage fantasies of American preteen girls.While I don't begrudge girls their sexual fantasies,the fact remains that the vampire,in its current glittery form,is a far cry from the symbol of sexuality and otherness that it had been at its inception.With notable exceptions likeThirstandLet the Right One In,vampires have spent the last 30 years getting weaker,whiter,more often male,and very American.WithA Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,Iranian American writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour is here to change all that.

It's difficult to defineA Girl Walks Home Alone At Nightas just one movie: it's a vampire flick,a spaghetti western,a love story,a feminist fantasy,and an allegory about Iran.The plot is fairly simple to describe: a young man named Arash (Arash Marandi) living in a corrupt city in Iran (known only as Bad City) falls in love with The Girl (Sheila Vand),a streetwalking vampire who preys on drugdealers and beggars.But don't dismiss this as a weak narrative film.

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It's also a movie of gorgeous images: beautiful noir-esque black and white cinematography and striking visual non-sequiturs abound.bell hooks once stated that dominant structures reinforce dominant ideologies,but Ana Lily Amirpour's film bites into disenfranchisement through style and structure.

The most prominent example of how Amirpour likes to play with conventional expectations is the vampire,The Girl.Dressed in a chador and a white-and-black striped shirt,The Girl at first appears as a striking,shadowy figure of feminist revenge who murders a misogynist drug dealer.But lest she seem like the hero,The Girl's other victims aren't nearly so deserving.But lest she seem a monster,here's a scene of The Girl riding a skateboard,chador flapping behind her in the wind.The Girl is a slippery symbol,but she's not the only vampire in the film: there's also the drug dealer sucking Arash's father dry,the oil wells sucking the city dry,dominant forces that leach resources from the community.The Girl,though the onlyrealvampire in the film,is nonetheless more human than the larger monsters that loom over the community.

Likewise,Amirpour's decision to reference spaghetti westerns throughout brings up the question of morality.In the western genre,even spaghetti westerns,there is always a clear hero and villain.However,nobody in the film could stand in for a hero,and the most obvious villain ofA Girl Walks Home Alone At Nightdies fairly quickly.This leaves a sizable hole where the genre tropes should be.With no gunman's showdown or even a tangible villain to fight,the film's characters mostly wander,left to struggle for their own survival.

ThroughoutA Girl Walks Home Alone At Night,Ana Lily Amirpour sets up genre conventions with the intent of knocking them down.The result is a beautiful,unusual film,a mishmash of cultures.Despite its Iranian language,A Girl Walks Home Alone At Nightwas actually shot in Bakersfield,CA,adding to its spaghetti western authenticity.Nonetheless,it captures a version of Iran that Amirpour sees: corrupt,violent,and destructive.From a symbol of sex and danger,Amirpour turns the vampire into a symbol of corruption.So which is scarier,the monster you can see,or the monster in the system?

This month on Women's Pictures we've been celebrating Halloween with Women Directors.Previously:Near Dark,Ravenous,andAmerican Psycho

10/29The Babadook(2014) - If it's in a word,or in a look,you can't escape from first-time feature director Jennifer Kent'sThe Babadook.(Amazon) (Netflix)

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Reader Comments (9)

I suppose I was in the minority in preferring this one to The Babadook in the race for best woman-directed debut horror film,but it was my favorite film of the year.I need to watch it again pretty soon.

October 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I LOVED this movie.I wish I had seen it earlier in the year.I saw it as I was finishing my nomination drafts and i just didn't have enough time to really wrap my head around it.But it is so memorable.I wish it had broken out bigger at the arthouse.

October 22,2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Glenn,I also preferred this to The Babadook.I'm a sucker for a good vampire story and this one delivered.

October 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

I watched this last week in anticipation of this piece,and I am SO glad I did.So striking and resonant and unusual!I can't believe it was shot in Bakersfield!I'm so excited to see Ana Lily Amirpour's next film.

October 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

All these trusted people telling me I should watch this film,I will add it to my list.My reluctance has been the fact that I OD'd on the Vampire plot after True Blood.It just shows how influential you guys are.

October 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Hope I get to see this before it's "remade"for American audiences a la Let the Right One In.Maybe they should teach "How to Read Subtitles"in high school so producers wouldn't feel the need...

Glenn and Robert--Many folks I've talked to who've seen both prefer this to The Babadook.You are not alone.

October 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPam

One of my favorite posts on TFE was that one featuring this/The Babadook/Under the Skin and some haikus,just because it inspired me to do a triple feature of those three films-"Feminist Horror in 2014,"which was so much fun.All three are among the best of 2014 for sure.

October 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterAR

I absolutely loved this movie.Great review!

October 22,2015 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

Great review.It's difficult for me to put into words why I enjoyed this movie,other than the cinematography which I could talk about all day.I recommended it to friends but most of them gave up on it halfway through.They're not the art-house kind,sadly.

To me,it's the atmosphere created by the director that makes this movie feel so unique and memorable.It's a mesh of genres and it uses California to stand in for Iran,but the cast & crew succeed not only in those aspects,but also in creating a character / world / film that is unlike anything I've ever seen.It's refreshing,and it never stops being mysterious.

That being said,I still prefer The Babadook.It was my second favorite film of last year (behind Boyhood) and it still haunts me.I'm looking forward to discussing that one next week.

October 23,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

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