“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” has its Madison premiere on Friday at 9 p.m. at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St., with an encore showing at 6 p.m. Saturday. Not rated, 1:44, three and a half stars out of four. FREE!
If you see only one Iranian feminist vampire Western this year, make it Ana Lily Amirpour’s sumptuous “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.” The freshest take on the vampire genre since “Let the Right One In,” “Night” is an intoxicating mix of genres all deftly and lovingly mashed together.
The vampire in this case is a young woman (Sheila Vand) who stalks a mythical Iranian town (actually shot in Bakersfield, California, Amirpour’s hometown) in a traditional black chador. The use of the chador is a masterstroke — a garment meant to conceal, it instead transforms the rather ordinary-looking girl into a terrifying, almost mythic figure. Amirpour’s favorite trick is to have an unsuspecting victim walking down the street, turn around, and suddenly the “girl” is there, standing silently, like a large black headstone.
After dispatching of a nasty heroin dealer and threatening a young boy (whose life she spares, but whose skateboard she steals), the girl spies Arash (Arash Marandi), a handsome young man staggering home from a costume party — you guessed it, dressed as Dracula. She spares him, sensing a kindred spirit under the cape. But can romance blossom between the beautifully alive and the beautifully undead, especially as Arash’s junkie father (Marshall Manesh) threatens to ruin it all?
Amirpour and cinematographer Lyle Vincent shoot “Night” in lustrous, high-contrast black-and-white, with beautifully framed shots and off-kilter angles that suggest both film noir and Sergio Leone Westerns. For film fans, “Night” is a like a feast, and the fantastic soundtrack slides between Morricone-like guitar, sensuous Arabic grooves and synth-pop. (Another cinematic tip of the hat: when the girl takes off her chador, she’s wearing the striped shirt that Jean Seberg wore in “Breathless.”)
“Night” is heavy on atmosphere and emotion, lighter on plot, as the Girl stalks her prey through the streets of Bad City. Without using a heavy hand about it, the film nicely flips the power dynamic between men and women in a repressive society; men think they have nothing to fear from this slight, shrouded woman, at their peril. The most memorable shot of the film may be the Girl riding that stolen skateboard through the night, her cloak billowing behind her. It’s an audacious touch that could have looked silly, but instead is glorious, and makes one very excited for what Amirpour will do next.