For her first-ever presentation at movie night, Angela went with a film – Ana Lily Amirpour‘s 2014 feature-length debut A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – that is sometimes described as the first Iranian Vampire Western.  I’m not sure this description hits the mark.  Vampire movie?  Sure, though I think the whole vampire bit may be, in the end, some bizarre form of symbolism.  Western?  Not in any traditional sense.  I mean, if a “western” is a film that is set in a location that evidently doesn’t have a lot of water, then sure.  But I have a hard time reconciling this film with my intuitive definition of a western, which includes at some elements from the set of cowboys/gunslingers/outlaws/settings in the American West during the Expansion era/themes of rugged individualism, you know, things like that – things that A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night pretty much misses altogether.  And as far as Iranian goes…well, it *is* spoken in Farsi, so there’s that.  But it was shot in and around the city of Taft, which lies at the southern end of California’s San Joaquin Valley, and it was directed by a woman (presumably of Iranian extraction, though I don’t see verification on this) born in London who has spent most of her life in the U.S. and financed by people like Elijah Wood.  So, it’s Iranian in the sense that it’s in Farsi, but other than that…  Besides, if you look at the priors, we’ve had 9 westerns, 4 vampire movies, and 2 Iranian films in the first 323 films shown at Cinema 1544.  Assuming independence, that would suggest that the probability of an Iranian Vampire Western showing up would be about one in 500,000.  Clearly this film is statistically significantly *not* an Iranian Vampire Western.

So what is it?  Well, let’s run it down.  The plot is actually relatively simple:

No, Phoebe, it’s not the cat that’s smelly

We start the film with Arash, one of the two main characters in the film, apparently stealing a cat.  It’s a bit of an odd thing to do, but when you live in a town (creatively called “Bad City”, no less) where you habitually walk past a culvert full of vampire victims and this doesn’t seem to phase you at all, well, maybe stealing a cat is pretty normal too.  Arash lives with his father, who is a heroin junkie.  And lickety-split we find ourselves with cinematic conflict because Saeed, the local drug dealer, strongarms Arash’s car to fulfill the unpaid heroin bill.

You know, I could score you some whitening toothpaste, but it’ll cost you

Being a drug dealer in a place called “Bad City” pretty much guarantees that you’re going to be one of the unpalatable sort, and Saeed lives up to it.  One night while attempting (in Arash’s car) to take advantage of a prostitute whom he pimps out (diversification!) he is distracted by seeing a young woman out walking by herself in the rear view mirror.  And, let’s be honest, when you see a girl in a mirror, the last thing you think is “vampire”.  We all know the rules.  So, in what ought to be a pretty safe bet, he takes the girl home, snorts an incredible amount of cocaine, tries to initiate some hanky-panky and gets himself exsanguinated in the process.

Somewhat coincidentally, the next morning as Arash is coming up to Saeed’s house in the hopes of offering him a pair of earrings he has stolen in exchange for his car, he meets the girl coming out.  She seems unfazed by the daylight.  She’s not apparently a very good vampire.  Maybe the chador protects her delicate skin, I don’t know.  At any rate, Arash finds the grisly scene, allowing him to steal back his car without giving up the earrings.  On top of that, he also steals Saeed’s stash of drugs, becoming the new town kingpin.  (No word on whether he took up Saeed’s pimping as well, but it wouldn’t appear so.)

She never told me she was a skateboarder

Soon we find Arash at a costume party, where he has dressed up as Dracula.  (Did he do this because of finding Saeed exsanguinated?  Did he even realize what had killed Saeed in the first place?)  Everybody thinks this is pretty precious.  It’s not clear whether they know there’s a vampire in their midst.  I mean, there *is* that culvert full of dead bodies.  They have to know, right?  It’s just this thing nobody talks about, or something?  Anyway, Arash is convinced by a pretty girl (incidentally his rich former employer from who he stole the earrings, and dear oh dear what won’t a young man do for a pretty girl?) to take one of his own ecstasy pills, and Arash not being particularly experienced in the world of drugs pretty much has his socks blown off.  He ends up wandering the streets and encountering our very spooky mime vampire.  You’d think this would be the end for him, but he’s so vulnerable and he’s so kind that evidently she feels pity for him.

She never told me she was a fan of roller derby

So instead she takes him home and they fall in love over some disco.  Like, who didn’t see that coming?  They meet up a couple more times, always at night (even though she seems to be a perfectly reasonable day-vampire) and when Arash tries to give her the earrings that he has stolen, he finds that her ears aren’t pierced.  So she lets him do it, right there, with a safety pin.

But about this time, things start to go downhill for Arash’s father.  Arash has been trying to wean him off the smack, but when his dad has a bizarre fantasy that the stolen cat is the reincarnation of his dead wife, Arash has had enough and kicks him out of the house, giving him a lifetime supply of heroin and making him take the cat, too.

Dad, for his part, goes over to the prostitute’s place, gets opiated out of his mind (also forcibly shooting up the woman), and tries – just like Saaed – to initiate some unwanted hanky-panky.  And in bursts the #MeToo vampire herself (these two have previously had a brief not-quite-bonding moment with each other) to take care of this little problem.  For some reason, they decide to dump the body out in the streets instead of in the designated culvert, leading it to be quickly found and identified.

I tried this once and ended up with a cat lodged under the brake pedal.  NOT recommended.

Arash, in his despair, decides that that’s it for him and Bad City – he’s taking his new girlfriend and they are outta there.  So he goes over to her place, tells her to pack her stuff (oddly not so much confident that she would comply as completely unable to consider that she wouldn’t) and who comes sauntering out of the other room but the cat?  The cat that Arash shipped off with his dad and that the prostitute insisted the vampire take with her after they disposed of pops.  Murder will out, it seems.  Arash hesitates, then relents.  The three of them drive off together into the sunset.  (Well, after the sunset.  She’s a vampire.  Not like the daylight always stopped her before, you know.  Whatever.  The End.  No, really.)  The End.

There’s actually a lot to like about the film.  The plot itself is pretty sparse, and a lot of things don’t make a lot of internal sense.  But the cinematography is spectacular, and the atmosphere is impeccable.   I actually like the pacing, and I can even get behind the violations of our canonical “vampire knowledge”.  To be honest, I’m not much of a fan of, well really, any undead creatures being used as the basis of films.  Obviously there are exceptions, but I just think the concept is overdone (though maybe not as overdone as comic book movies at this point) and so breaking convention at least keeps things a bit fresh for me.  Besides, as I said above, I’m not even sure that the entire “vampire” aspect of the film isn’t nothing more than a grand metaphor.  Our vampire seems to only kill people who are on drugs (OK, well, she does feast on a homeless dude at one point, but we really don’t know whether he might be high at the time).  Saeed – tons of coke.  Arash’s dad?  Heroin.  But when she sees Arash the first time, he’s clean and she leaves him alone.  Later when he’s on ecstasy she finds him again and looks to be ready for a late-night snack when she changes her mind.  She pesters a little kid about “being a good boy” and while she scares him (and steals his skateboard) it doesn’t seem like he was ever really being targeted.  Besides, there are thing like the whole culvert of dead bodies why-doesn’t-anybody-seem-to-worry-about-this that just give me the feeling that metaphor is winning over fantasy in this movie.  I dunno, I’m probably overthinking it.

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