LAST YEAR'S Twitter phenomenon #YesAllWomen brought to light the multitude of rules women are conditioned to live by for our own survival: walk with your keys out, tucked between your fingers, in case you encounter a predator. If you go somewhere by yourself, always tell someone where you'll be. And above all, never, ever walk alone at night.
The title of writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is loaded in vulnerability, risk, and daring. In the trailer, bathed in timelessly stark black and white, we see a young woman clad in a traditional Iranian chador, alone in a vast, bleak street.
As strange men approach her, however, it’s revealed that The Girl (played by Sheila Vand) is the real threat, as she tips her chin back, revealing two small, unmistakable sharp fangs.
As a child, Amirpour watched countless Westerns with her father and became hooked on Anne Rice novels after discovering Interview with a Vampire. With inspiration derived from David Lynch, Back to the Future I and II (she considers them one film), Pulp Fiction, and Wild at Heart, A Girl fuses red-blooded American influences with Iranian culture to make the very first “Iranian vampire Western.”
Told in Farsi with English subtitles, and shot in flat, industrial Bakersfield, California, Amirpour’s cultural blurring is being heralded by critics; it was chosen to show in the “Next” program at Sundance, and was awarded the esteemed Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Director. The gripping trailer oozes noir-cool, timeless intrigue, and seizing the power that fuels gendered perceptions of predator vs. prey.
Inspiration for A Girl struck Amirpour while onset for another film, when she found a chador in the prop department.
“The moment I put it on it was like, oh— clearly, this is an Iranian vampire,” she told Vice. “This is what it would be. It would be this girl...this chador, it’s a brilliant disguise. The movie grew around her.”
Bad City, the film’s fictional setting, acts as a character in itself: a desolate, eerie landscape occupied by gangsters, prostitutes, and lost souls. It’s a town where the river laps over a towering pile of untended-to dead bodies, and a seemingly young, lonely vampire wanders the streets at dusk.
“I’m attracted to the idea of the misfits and the rejects having their own kind of summit,” Amirpour, who likens Bad City’s creation to Frank Miller’s Sin City, explained to Vice.
An English-born Iranian-American, Amirpour has said that she hopes the film tells the story of people like herself with multi-faceted identities, who don’t quite fit under one strict cultural identifier. In production, she reached out to Iranian artists she knew who were living in the U.S. and Europe for collaboration and inspiration.
“Along the way I kind of subconsciously —or consciously—realized that we are all similar in that we all are Iranian, and are somehow very close to the fact that we are Iranian, but we’re not of that world,” she explained in an interview with The Vilcek Foundation.
“So...in a way...Bad City became our Iran. Because it became really a true mashup of all the things that we are, which is our parents, and our parents’ Iran, but also America, and Europe, and all these influences of pop culture that we grew up on. It kind of became a place for all of us.”
Producer Elijah Wood, a friend of a friend of Amirpour’s, fell in love with the script when it was sent to him.
“It had all these genre elements—it was about a vampire, but it was also really a love story,” he told Vice. “The fact that it was going to be shot in black and white, the fact that it was in Farsi—all these elements were things that maybe would have scared other people looking to invest in something from a commercial standpoint. But for us, it was absolutely everything that was wanted to be a part of.”
CinemaSavannah and Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah work year-round to uncover forgotten excellence and bring in the best in innovative filmmaking; A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a first-rate pick to kick off a new year of cinematic discovery.