"I'm bad."

“I’m bad.”

Sometimes I feel like we don’t appreciate our own cultural touchstones: The clothes we wear, the music we hear, even the cars we drive. Where it was all once carefully chosen and curated to say something about ourselves, and now it’s just all “there”. One wonders if we might appreciate it more if it were more taboo…more a rebellion. In that case, what might we use to symbolize our lives…or even our deaths?

Arash (Arash Marandi) is just trying to get by. He doesn’t have a whole lot going on for himself, with no great job to speak of and a father who seems too strung-out on opiates to do much with his own life.

One thing Arash does have is his car…a great car…a 1956 Ford Thunderbird. He worked over two thousand days to afford it, and now that he finally has, it’s gone a long way to help him carve out a niche for himself in the humdrum Iranian suburb he lives in. Unfortunately, he and his father are in deep to a drug dealer named Saeed, and the car is taken as de facto payment. Arash is pissed, his father is too strung-out to notice, and Saeed is sated for the moment.

One the first night he takes his new car out and uses it to ferry around a prostitute named Atti, Saeed sees a mysterious girl in the rearview mirror, though only fleetingly. When he finally catches up with The Girl (Sheila Vand) later, he discovers that she is more than just a pretty face.

She is a young woman who loves all things New Wave, 80’s, and counter-culture. Oh yeah, and she’s a vampire.

Saeed brings her into his pad with thoughts of seduction, but ultimately it leads to his doom. Not long after his departure from this world, Arash stops buy hoping to reason with him and get his car back. What he sees is the carnage The Girl has left behind. Not one to quibble over one more dead drug dealer, Arash helps himself to Saeed’s supply and bankroll, along with taking back his car.

Wouldn’t you know it though, it doesn’t take very long for Arash to likewise encounter The Girl…

Sheila Vand

There’s always something awesome in a vampire stories that makes men the hunted – the victims. It’s like it takes a traditional monster/damsel trope and turns it on its ear. Suddenly we aren’t pulling for the demon to be destroyed anymore…and many if the victims seem a lot less “innocent”.

In this film, one of the most telling moments comes when we discover – in no uncertain terms – just “what” The Girl is. In this moment, she is being coerced by the drug dealer who thinks she is just another curious girl out of her depth like so many that he has encountered in his comings and goings. This leads him to treat her in the same manner – looking to impress her with his lousy style, his mindless music, and his spread of guns, drugs, and bling. When time comes to make his move, he makes the same one we’ve already seen him make with Atti: a half-assed display of male sexuality.

To show how little she is interested in this half-assed display, our heroine not only chomps it off…but proceeds to feed it back to him. If such displays of machismo ever impressed her, they clearly stopped working long ago. The message is clear – us guys need to come up with a better approach.

Oddly enough, Arash might have survived his first encounter with The Girl because his drug-induced state had caused him to space-out. Just hours earlier, a dose of ecstasy had him fondling a girl he barely knew and trying to get to french her on the dance floor. Had that encounter been with The Girl, who knows what state he might have been left in. Instead, she finds him with the effects of his drugs tamping down all his aggression…and this (albeit chemically-induced) side of him leaves her curious.

So maybe that’s the point: somewhere in-between the forceful and the inert is a sweet spot.

What’s interesting about the role of the vampire in A GIRL WALKS ALONE AT NIGHT is the way the character is written as a punisher. While her interactions with Arash help to give the story its final thrust, it’s not the core of the tale. Instead, what does serve as the core is her  ability to sense the good from the bad and generally zero in her violence on those that in some way “deserve” it. In a way it creates an otherworldly consequence for those of us who disrespect our own lives, and the lives of others. It’s not just that we have to deal with these consequences, it’s that by living poorly we actually invite them.

So few of these ideas are actually new, but seeing them unspool in A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT feels amazingly fresh.

Perhaps one of the freshest details of this film is its setting in an Arab community. Specifically – there’s something especially interesting about seeing a vampire in a chador. The contradiction of seeing what has (until now) been a very christian piece of folklore in a very muslim article of clothing makes for a gorgeous visual paradox. The Girl uses it to her advantage when she wants to be imposing, and likewise allows it to fall as it will when she wants to be more impish. It harkens back to early images of Bela Lugosi in his cape, while still keeping things very much grounded in the now. It puts a whole other spin on a symbol of great modesty and orthodoxy, and really gives this story some originality.

A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT is a totem for generational identity in the Arab world. It’s a society so deeply steeped in its origins, yet one where every new generation is more in-tune with the world around them than the generation before. What that leads to are vast swaths of Arab youth identifying themselves more with the youth of the west…or the youth of the 80’s, as we see with The Girl…or even the youth of the 50’s as we see with Arash.

Some of their symbols of identity are worn under a chador, some on their own sleeves, and some are strewn across their bedroom walls. What is clear is that with every passing year, the boundaries and borders of pop culture are blurring. Art and culture that once had a more limited reach can now be soaked up by all sorts of people the world over. Everything from James Dean to SCARFACE. It’s all there for the consumption, and all there to shape their attitudes…

…for better and for worse.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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