Bloodsucking Beauty

Director Ana Lily Amirpour reinterprets the vampire movie

You won’t see many movies as cool and beautiful as Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, though the film still needs a little sifting to distinguish its accomplishments. Writer and director Amirpour isn’t a pioneer of the avant-garde, black-and-white vampire movie; this year alone, Jim Jarmusch released his own vamp film, Only Lovers Left Alive.

Jarmusch is likely an influence in at least one of Amirour’s ideas: the way the film pauses to let us listen to the British tune “Death” by White Lies. The song speaks, as it were, for Amirour’s lonely and lovely female vampire of few words, “the Girl” (a startlingly expressive Sheila Vand).

In Amirpour’s voluptuous recreation of a half-empty Iranian oil town nicknamed “Bad City” (Taft and Bakersfield provide the desolation), the Girl stalks the streets as parasite and avenger, which the director depicts with a surprising visionary eye. The vampire’s hijab transforms into a cape on her rounds, and we see her commandeer a skateboard so she can glide just like Dracula.

As a troubled young drug dealer, Arash Marandi charms the Girl with a soulful comedic side that counteracts the otherwise horror-show material. Marandi’s character suffers from family angst; mother (Mozhan Marno, recalling Melina Mercouri) is a witchy prostitute, father (Marshall Manesh) is a junkie, and there’s even something uncanny about the family cat too.

Amirpour’s good taste shows in hiring director of photography Lyle Vincent, equally superb at illuminating the blurry edges of the night or in using a fine enough grain to highlight the dust motes in a moribund man’s apartment. This is a film in the tradition of Josef von Sternberg’s Morocco and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, as well as Michael Almereyda’s Nadja and Abel Ferrara’s Addiction—movies made almost a generation ago—which depicted the quest for numbness by those young and hurt by love.

‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ opens Friday, Dec. 5, at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.454.5813.

Sonoma County Library