A black-and-white mock-western set in Iran, made by a female Iranian-American director. The heroine is a young-looking feminist vampire, preying on men and roaming the streets of a deserted small town on a skateboard in a black chador that looks more like a superhero’s cloak. Set this to music that could have been Tom Waits singing in Persian. Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is as hip as indie cinema gets.
Girl really is hip. The entirety of this movie is perfect but controlled aestheticism. The backdrop of an Iranian oil town, whose main features are breathtakingly chromatic oil derricks and a huge pit full of dead bodies, in its soaking nighttime darkness, feels foreign and dangerously alluring without being sold to us as ‘exotic’. Indeed, there’s even something familiar about its landscape; it feels very much like Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City. The town’s nickname, ‘Bad City’, might well be alluding to it. However, the black-and-white rhythmic elegance of the film also evokes smoky memories of Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes and his existential western Dead Man. Thus Girl falls into the genre of pastiche western nostalgia; or perhaps, in our post-postmodern era, it is a pastiche of ‘Jarmusch style’ pastiches.
However, Girl does not just look fashionable, but also is very current thematically, very read-it-today-on-Buzzfeed (both in an entirely positive sense). The main issue at stake is how do young women and men in a (sort of, partly) post-feminist era do relationships. The girl of the story is, naturally, the above-mentioned vampire (played by Sheila Vand). She looks with pity at an older (human) prostitute (Mozhan Marnò), who, on the quiet, scratches with a key a gorgeous retro car of a bully pimp. Later they have a conversation, during which the vampire tries to persuade the prostitute that what she does makes her unhappy, and gets very annoyed when the woman denies that things could be different. The situation is all too reminiscent of internet feminists getting annoyed at women who upload ‘This Is Why I Don’t Need Feminism’ signs. The vampire finds solace from such conversations by listening to vintage records in your typical teenage vampire bedroom.
The boy protagonist is Arash (Arash Morandi). Arash is a very handsome high-cheekboned young man, bizarrely like an Iranian cousin of Robert Pattison (this likeness will be particularly relevant at a certain scene of the movie – its funniest). It is not that Arash looks effeminate or acts in particularly ‘unmanly’ ways; on the contrary, he is smoking in the true macho style in the opening frame of the movie. However, Arash Morandi projects an aura of gentleness around him. Although this line is somewhat underdeveloped, we are shown that Arash is estranged from his old father Hossein (Marshall Manesh), a dying junky gambler who is also addicted to prostitutes. It is clear that Arash is disgusted with Hossein’s machismo. He seems confident but lonely and somewhat lost.
So when the boy and the girl meet, all sorts of interesting gender bending takes place. Her vampirism is a metaphor for radical feminism – prey on them before they prey on me. She can’t afford to date men because she feeds on them. However, she is attracted to Arash, so much in fact, that she lets him pierce her ears in order to be able to wear the earrings he gave her, thus voluntarily taking pain from his masculine hand. Arash is clearly bemused by her aloofness and lack of desire to eat hamburgers; however, he doesn’t press her when she refuses to tell him her name. Together they share a moment of beautiful poignancy listening to music coming out of his car whilst facing a moonlit power plant. Two lonely souls wanting to be less lonely together. Their relationship is peculiarly androgynous and yet undoubtedly romantic and real. This is a post-patriarchy utopia.
Do I dare say that this movie is somewhat not brave enough? It certainly feels very timely, a film that had to be done in year 2015, and it pictures the difficulties of practical deconstruction of patriarchy very well. However, the vampire theme asks for a kind of timelessness and solidness which can be found in Only Lovers Left Alive but perhaps not in Girl. This film could easily be either 20 minutes shorter or otherwise more complex, with better developed side stories and more existential meat, so to speak. Overall, however, it is an utter delight to watch: it’s original, it’s atmospheric, and it’s a must see for someone who wants to support an independent female director and enjoy one of the very few movies with a fully developed, truly interesting and subversive female lead.