By day the oil wells drain the dry earth. Indoors, Hossein hides from the light, craving his next fix, while his son Arash (Arash Marandi) negotiates with dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains) who demands Arash’s beloved car in lieu of payment, an arrangement he is unable to refuse. “We don’t run up the debts but we pay them.”
Arash tends the gardens of spoiled rich girl Miss Shaydeh’s; commanded to her bedroom to fix her television, a man alone with her in her chambers, should be inappropriate, but he is a household servant, beneath her notice. At thirty years old, Atti (Mozhan Marnò) is old for a working girl, something which Saeed is happy to trade on, demanding more than his cut of her earnings and expecting her services for free.
But at night the world changes, a new player in the harsh games of Bad City who doesn’t fit the role expected of her. It is the unnamed girl (performance artist Sheila Vand) who is the rogue element of change, silently watching Saeed berate and take advantage of Atti, the unwanted scrutiny causing him to panic, then disappearing.
When she appears to him again, silently teasing, he invites her back to his bachelor pad but she is more powerful than him, killing the pimp and fleecing him for his gold jewellery. Arriving on his bicycle moments later, Arash and the girl pass each other at the door; he enters and finds the dead dealer amongst his stash, now up for grabs.
Screening at the Glasgow Film Festival, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the atmospheric and assured feature debut of Ana Lily Amirpour, described as “the first Iranian vampire spaghetti western,” slipping between styles and cultures and appropriating whatever elements fit to create a world half harsh unforgiving days of inflexible reality and half cool dark nights of malleable possibility.
In stark black and white, the girl has the magnetism of a silent movie monster, an angry angel of death who swoops in for the kill, but the darkness doesn’t fill the loneliness and behind closed doors her room is decorated with Madonna, the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson, tied to a distant land and era dancing by herself in the night.
Playing with gender roles as much as genre conventions, the swagger of tattooed Saeed is almost a parody of masculinity, while Hossein is a near-crippled failure as a husband and a father, seeking to buy either a moment of happiness or oblivion, while Arash dresses as Dracula for the fancy dress party at the nightclub but can’t seduce the girls, his mesmerism limited to the stolen supply of ecstasy he gives away for little more than a smile.
With the deserted streets of Bad City seemingly only there to support the heavy industry which plunders the earth, the distorted sound of the bleak sonic landscape and the lonely highways at night prowled by retro cars, their drivers clad in leather jackets, memories of David Lynch are evoked, particularly the obscure black and white vampire satire/spoof he produced for writer/director Michael Almereyda, Nadja, though the bold trumpet of the soundtrack recalls the films of Pedro Almodóvar.
Beautiful to behold with every frame of the film exquisitely captured, the film occasionally steps past the border of pensive and brooding into aimlessness as the characters seek purpose, meaning, escape, and while stylish throughout the film is never so cool as when a vampire rides a skateboard down the darkened streets of her territory, her chador flying out behind her.