There were times during A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT when it felt as though I were watching a movie for the first time in my life. It has been a long time since I have gone to anything so viscerally pure and original. It is a classic oddity: a North American release set in an imaginary Iran and spoken entirely in Farsi. It is black-and-white, witty, and terrifying. It is about a vampire but is still hard and materialistic. Nothing in it feels supernatural in the usual sense. This is true even when the vampire sprouts fangs or appears abruptly before when she had previously stood behind. I think I have never seen such effects so convincingly done and free of sensational motive. The faces are beautiful, the images shocking, the mood one of horrific isolation and nocturnal emptiness.

Blood, in Bad City (or whatever it is called in Farsi), is black as petrol wherever it is smeared. At the oil field near where the town dumps its bodies, the drills bob up and down like thirsty insects. The girl wears her chadoor like a shroud and roams the night. You do not, if you are evil, or fallen into dissipation, want to run into her, or let her come upon you. But if you are good, or have the chance to be, you are safe for the moment. Her center is hard, but it is moral, a diamond set in black. All around her are addicts and prostitutes and dealers and pimps. Although this is Iran, it does not seem a religious place; the denizens of Bad City brush off its mention and there’s no hint that they miss anything by doing so. That the choices made by the vampire are moral; that she can cuddle a cat, or let a child off with a warning, or take earrings from a suitor; most of all that she can admit her own badness; these are what set her off from the living.

She is nameless, only “the Girl,” but I will never forget that of Sheila Vand, for having played her. Arash, her liquid eyed suitor, who steals a cat in the first scene and drives proudly home in a new car only to have it taken in payment for his father’s drug debts, bears the same name as the actor, Arash Marandi, who plays him. There is something self-reflexive in this masterful work written and directed by Ana Lili Amirpour, with its Iranian-American ensemble, Persian soundtrack, and oddly American oil town decked out with Farsi signage. In fact A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT was shot in California. It creates of old places a new place, with a cold material reality, in which a coherent moral system has yet to be forged. The girl who walks may be as godless as all else in Bad City, and do “bad things,” but something about her is terrifyingly right, and something around her is terribly wrong.

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