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Sheila Vand, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night Sheila Vand, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature film cultivates a mysteriousness beginning with its setting, the fictional Bad City, a Persian-speaking semi-rural town where dead bodies are daily dragged into a ditch on the outskirts with no explanation. Bad City is simultaneously of the East, with its language, glimpses of Islamic TV and title character’s chador; and of the West, with its stylistic nod to the Western and its allusion, in name and noir-ish, graphic aesthetic, to Frank Miller’s quintessentially American comic and film series, Sin City.

A shadow world, it floats in time as well as geographically. Arash (Arash Marandi), the handsome young protagonist, has scrimped for a classic 50s American car and wears the James Dean ensemble of tight white T-shirt, jeans and leather jacket with an air not of imitation but of someone who has sprung from the era. In contrast, Saeed (Dominic Rains), the blinged, tattooed drug dealer who holds sway over several characters’ lives, belongs to the present. At home when she removes her chador, the Girl (Sheila Vand), with striped top, heavy eyeliner and bobbed hair could belong anywhere from the 1960s to the 80s to now, an ambiguity befitting her vampiric state.

With its fable-like archetypes, revealed in the credits—the Girl, the Pimp, the Prostitute, the Princess—as well as its expressive movement and emphasis on the gaze, the film displays the intensity of silent cinema, with Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and (for obvious reasons) Nosferatu (1922) brought to mind. Amirpour’s hypnotic use of slow, deliberate movement is a defining feature. Characters dance: the drug dealer writhes seductively; the Princess and friends undulate trance-like at a Halloween party; the Girl in her bedroom twists to stolen LPs. Young lovers move ever so gradually towards each other in an incremental embrace. Movement disconcerts while it mesmerises, as when the Girl glides in search of prey along depopulated night-time streets, at one point mimicking the gait of a victim from across the road.

While the film might make use of archetypes, it undercuts them through the figure of the Girl, whose apparent vulnerability deceives her prey. Walking home alone at night (an action that women are constantly advised against) the Girl becomes the locus of fear rather than its victim. Her perceived girlishness and feminine piety house something primal and frightening. Sheila Vand’s still and watchful performance conveys this masterfully.

Unlike the other characters, Arash is not given an archetype, but like Caleb in that other vampire Western, Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987), he represents a purity of heart—or as close as we’ll get to it in Bad City. As with Caleb and his vampire lover Mae, the encounters between Arash and the Girl are weighted with significance.

In Angela Carter’s short story “The Lady of the House of Love,” it is the innocence of the young English soldier (embodied in his virginity) that proves the undoing, or unmaking, of the ancient vampire maiden. Here too, as well as in Near Dark, the young man is a catalyst for change in the female vampire’s life, though Amirpour leaves the exact nature of this change somewhat ambiguous.

See Giveaways for the opportunity to have your own DVD of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), writer, director Ana Lily Amirpour, cinematography Lyle Vincent; distributor Madman

RealTime issue #127 June-July 2015 pg. 22

© Katerina Sakkas; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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