Even as Iran becomes a less hospital place for filmmakers, Iranian filmmakers are finding a way to flourish. Abbas Kiarostami’s international productions (Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love) are being met with critical success while Asghar Farhadi’s French production The Past is met with equal success. And now as these Iranian filmmakers begin creating films throughout the globe, the first Persian language film made in the West is, of all things, a vampire film.
In true vampiric fashion, A Girl Walks Home Along at Night is everything one couldn’t do in Iran: seedy and sexy. The ghost-town Bad City is about as rough a city you could find. Arash (Arash Marandi) is trying to get his father out of debt with local pimp/drug dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains) and comes into an unusual stroke of luck when a mysterious Girl (Sheila Vand) kills Saeed.
What’s strikingly notable about the film is how it carries many of the themes and ideas of Iranian cinema into its Western production. Many of the ideas of female oppression and subjection in Iranian cinema make their way into the film and the context of vampirism allows the film to become a form of sexual liberation for these women.
The Girl’s vampirism becomes a form of vengeance for these women as she sweeps through the night to attack the men oppressing and abusing female victims. In one of the most chilling scenes of the film, The Girl questions a young boy about whether or not he is good. It’s clear that the film sees this cycle of abuse towards women as a generational cycle, one it hopes to break.
Vampirism becomes a liberation fantasy. It shows how women’s liberation is a source of monstrous fear for many of the men in this oppressive society. The idea of a sexually active women, one that is not a one of subjugation like the older woman who is a prostitute, but one alive and working of her own volition, is a terrifying idea for a society that seeks to keep the women sexually controlled through the restriction of the head-covering, it’s most iconic version being the full-body black Chador.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night reworks the full-body Chador as an object that is no long one of oppression, but one to strike fear in the hearts of men. In one scene, The Girl rides a skateboard down a hill, the Chador wafting behind her like the wings of a bat. This is no longer the object of oppression, but now the costume of a creature come to exact vengeance and terror upon her oppressors.
Playing up these ideas of terror and horror is the black and white cinematography. While this accentuates the film’s black and white moralism, it also plays into the classical tradition of horror films, a sort of reinterpretation of the Dracula story for a new era, vampirism as a form of sexual and social liberation for the oppressed female characters.
This is the lucid fever-dream of films like The Day I Became a Women, Offside and Women’s Prison. And while it’s connected through the culture of Iran, it has to geographically free itself from the country of Iran and be made in the West. Even then, there’s no denying that this is an Iranian film through and through, an examination of a liberation so terrifying that it could not be made in its true country of origin.
© 2015 James Blake Ewing