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Summer special

A girl walks home alone at night

by Eva-Maria Verfürth

In brief

The vampire haunts Bad City at night.

The vampire haunts Bad City at night.

Everything that is illegal in Iran is okay in this movie: substance abuse, western music, prostitution and even a woman being outdoors alone at night. She is actually a chador-wearing vampire on a skate board. Director Ana Lily Amirpour, who belongs to the Iranian community in the USA, has turned everything that marks contemporary Iran upside down. She was free to do so because her “first Iranian vampire movie” was produced in the USA.

Anyone who has seen this film will remember the image of the lead character gliding through the streets of “Bad City”. Wrapped in her chador, a huge veil, the young hipster vampire spends the pitch-black night roaming the town.

This unusual setting has attracted film critics’ attention. The chador is the crucial symbol. It is the politically correct way for women to dress in public in Iran today: a black piece of cloth that is designed to hide the female body entirely. The film was artfully shot in black and white, does not need many words, but relies heavily on music and impressive images.

The screenplay is located in an imaginary Iranian town called Bad City. It is crime ridden. Among the people who live here are Arash, his drug-addicted father and a mysterious young woman. She loves to dance to Farsi pop songs and electronic music at home and turns into a vampire at night, going out to hunt town residents and drink their blood. Arash meets her, but he is not bitten. Slowly at first, a love story begins.

“A girl walks home alone at night” was produced in Farsi, and most roles are played by Iranian actors. The film was shot in California, however, and the music reminds one of American western movies. The scenery is not reminiscent of Iran at all. Amirpour is the daughter of Iranian parents, but has never lived in Iran. She has never said her work has a political message.

The movie is a piece of art, and a thought provoking one. Its bewildering mix of pictures and tunes from different cultures challenges conventional ways of seeing things. In Europe and North America, Muslim scarves have become a matter of controversy, and in Iran, the chador symbolises women’s suppression, but Amirpour deprives it of all these weighty implications and turns it into what it really is: a black piece of cloth that might serve a vampire perfectly well.

The reviews have been mixed. Some critics say the movie is politically relevant or feminist, while others consider it vacuous. It has been called the “first Iranian vampire western” and “western pop culture in Farsi”. Some speak of “great art”, while others deny it includes any innovative ideas. All these views make sense, which shows that the film is actually quite exciting.

The lack of an unambiguous political message is perhaps the movie’s strongest point. Directors who deal with Iran tend to focus on socio-political issues. Sheila Vand, who plays the vampire, has expressed frustration about Iranian actors in the US tending to only get roles that depict Iranians’ problems. Amirpour’s approach is different. Anyone so inclined will find political hints and feminist statements, while others can simply enjoy a good arthouse film.

The movie’s authenticity is probably related to its roots in the diaspora. Some viewers have complained that its Farsi is marked by American accents and ideas, but that might actually have been intended. In an interview, Amirpour confessed that it was not easy to write the screenplay in Farsi. The way she juxtaposes references to well-known movies is totally new, and seemingly inappropriate ways show that she is a great artist.

Anyone who is interested in an un­usual and unexpected expression of the Iranian diaspora’s life in the USA should watch “A girl walks home alone at night”. In interviews, Amirpour has hinted at identifying with the vampire herself. Her work reflects loneliness and uprootedness, but also a sense of feeling at home in western pop culture. Bad City stands for everything that is forbidden for women in Iran, and it is the place where the vampire girl finds love.


Film
A girl walks home alone at night, 2014, USA,
director: Ana Lily Amirpour

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