May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
December 4, 2014
I am not sure what A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night actually is. It emerges from the recent crop of vampire films cloaked in a lot of little genre hooks, but then defies easy description once fully unleashed. It is also undeniably beautiful, even alluring.
It takes place in Bad City, an Iranian town bordered by oil pumps but filmed in a Californian desert. Its actors are Iranian expats, arranged initially around a pimp straight out of a Die Antwoord video. The vampire’s chamber is cluttered with New Wave band and concert posters, though Iranian pop drives the soundtrack. She stalks Bad City wrapped in a chador. And this is all bracketed by overt references to American westerns, noir, and a mish-mash of international cinema cues.
One of the more alarming aspects of the film is the way it embeds images of genre horror in an otherwise staid Iranian New Wave template. We have come to expect a certain social and emotional depth to Iranian films – still waters running deep. Amirpour’s film does the interesting trick of retaining that flat surface, but replacing all the deep social and historical subtext with a vampire. The love story component highlights her innocent desire for love and companionship, which contrasts with the stark and lonely shadows of Bad City.
The effect is similar to Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, which casts the woes of immortal vampires as the essence of romanticism across the ages. But where Jarmusch’s film, as Purves argues, draws the audience with its vampires into the history of the good, beautiful, and true, Amirpour’s film leaves us with the shell of its cinema references. Girl is empty and hungry, her love story marred by nameless vampire urges to feed on something more substantial than what Bad City has to offer.
The film ultimately begins to feel, as most vampire tales, like an analogy to something deeply human. The mood sustained by this hunger makes for good cinema – a film noir with no defining “defiant act.” I tend to recoil from Tarantino’s constant internal references to grindhouse cinema and genres similar to those Amirpour is obviously attracted. But A Girl Walks… is more like Godard’s Alphaville or Kubrick’s Strangelove, other films consciously searching for a genre. Amirpour invites us to join in the hunt. It is a clever formal gambit, given that this is a vampire film after all.