1833A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the second vampire film this year that redeems the genre from schlock and Twilight. It also isn’t the type of film one usually expects from an Iranian filmmaker, though it has a social consciousness informed by the oppressive society that forces that country’s filmmakers to play with subversion in their storytelling. With this film, director Ana Lily Amirpour graduates from short films to her first feature. Working from her own screenplay and expanding on an earlier short film, she does not turn to the usual influences of the vampire film, and her bloodsucker is not treated as your regular creature of the night.

Only credited as “the Girl” in the film’s credits, Sheila Vand plays the vamp with an ethereal, hip quality that will allow you to buy it when petty drug dealer Arash (Arash Marandi) falls for her, even though he is in a drug-addled stupor at the time they meet. He has stumbled away from a costume party dressed as Dracula. As he stands mesmerized by a suburban street lamp, she approaches, already established in the film as a killer draped in a chador who creeps through the dark streets of “Bad City.” Arash musters some subtle charm and says he is lost. He does not know it, but this young woman is behind the violent murder of a drug dealer/pimp (Dominic Rains) who has hooked his father (Marshall Manesh) on heroin and stolen Arash’s restored 1957 Ford Thunderbird. It is thanks to her that he has his car back and has found lucrative job selling ecstasy pills.

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Just considering the place of male-female roles in Iranian culture explored in that boiler plate is enough to merit surprise for this film that seems to come from Iran. How did Amirpour get away with it? She’s actually based in L.A. and born in the UK to Iranian parents. She even spent time living in our hometown of Miami before settling in Bakersfield, near L.A., which stands in for “Bad City.” It’s the female who is setting things right, for it is her actions that takes care of the oppressor of the father and son. In another scene, the Girl confronts a street urchin (Milad Eghbali), asking him repeatedly, “Are you a good boy or are you a bad boy?” as she leans ever closer to his neck. There is honor in this vampire, looking to set things right for the future of Iran.

Despite its grave social awareness, this film is above all witty, fun and atmospheric. Shot in luminous anamorphic black and white, the cinematography by newcomer Lyle Vincent will take your breath away. Its quality of image, from obtuse angles to its stark contrast, recalls Rumble Fish, which the filmmaker credits as inspiration in her Indiegogo page. The production design also pays tribute to the 1983 film by Francis Ford Coppola, which, in full disclosure, I must admit is my all-time favorite movie. 852Amirpour gives the setting a strange timeless quality by giving Arash a classic car and having him dress in a plain white T-shirt and jeans, something Coppola also set out to do with his film. David Lynch is also a strong influence. The backdrop of an industrial setting, which dominates the screen in brief scene transitions featuring giant silos and oil pumps creaking and rumbling, as they suck fluids from the landscape, recalls Lynch’s 1977 feature debut Eraserhead. Also leading one to think of Lynch is the film’s sound design, which includes the ambient noise of the semi-industrial town where the story unfolds and the alien drone that marks the first mysterious appearance of the Girl.

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The lush ambiance of this film would not be complete without a special music soundtrack. It not only includes Iranian pop music, which features elements like bouzouki mixed with electric guitars, but also features a great scene when the girl puts on a record by White Lies in her bedroom lined with posters that include Michael Jackson and Madonna in the ’80s. She plays the oh-so appropriate “Death” to the drugged-out Asar, as they slowly turn to face each other for the first half of the song.

The film has style to spare, and that’s why it’s so easy to forgive its inconsistent story-line. When the Girl gets her fangs on the drug dealer his actions are as meek as you would expect from the dimmest of horror movie victims. Maybe its homage, but there are also moments of convenience that seem like easy shortcuts in narrative. However, as soon as you might feel the need to wonder or question the drama, Amirpour will surprise you with some other witty moment of flair with her filmmaking that will bring a smile. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is truly one of the freshest and lightest films to come out of Iran that does not forget its milieu and makes for one of the wittiest additions to the vampire film genre.

Hans Morgenstern

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not rated, runs 99 minutes and is Persian with English subtitles. It exclusively opens in South Florida on Friday, Dec. 12, at 7 p.m., at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which provided a screener link for the purpose of this review. For more screening dates across the US, see the film’s official website.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

MIFF2014_posterToday is the day tickets for films at the 31st Miami International Film Festival go on sale to the general public. The opening night was about a month away, when I called up the festival’s director, Jaie Laplante. He had just finalized the line-up with three major, late additions to the program, bringing the total number of feature films at this year’s festival to 97. They included the new thriller Open Windows, by Spanish director Nacho Vigalondostarring Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey. It will have its world premiere only a few days before MIFF at South By Southwest. There was also An Unbreakable Bond, a documentary by Emilio and Gloria Estefan about Marc Buoniconti, a man who turned a tragic injury into a triumph. Finally, he mentioned Kid Cannabis, a world premiere from actor-turned-director John Stockwell. Tickets to these films and the rest of the program can be found here.

We spoke for about 20 minutes that day. Laplante even gave up the names of some of his personal favorites. You can find out what some of those are, by jumping through the link to the art and culture blog “Cultist,” at the “Miami New Times,” below:

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During our chat he mentioned one other favorite that I too am very excited about:  Locations: Looking for Rusty James, a film about one of Francis Ford Coppola’s more underrated films, Rumble Fish (My personal favorite film: ‘Rumble Fish;’ read my ode to Coppola’s underrated masterpiece in AFI), and it’s influence on young people in Chile when it was released in the early 1980s. Laplante called Locations, “a very different kind of documentary. It’s not so narrative-driven … It’s more of a personal essay type of film, extraordinarily moving, but a different type of film for us in the documentary competition.”

I only left his mention of Locations out of the “Cultist” interview of his favorites because I had already gushed about it at the end of an earlier post  in “Cultist,” which can be found here. 15_BAFICI_LOCACIONES-2It will make those who are already fans of Rumble Fish swoon and those unfamiliar with the source of inspiration for Locations will surely want to seek it out once they experience this special film essay by Chilean director Alberto Fuguet. Here’s a handy link to purchase the U.S. DVD and support Independent Ethos at the same time: check out Rumble Fish.

My interest in films at MIFF has always been the more experimental works, so we also talked about one of my favorite categories of the festival: Visions, which featured a pair of favorite films from last year’s festival, Leviathan and Post Tenebras Lux. However, this year, that section has been toned down a bit. “It’s much smaller than last year,” noted Laplante, “but we have two films in there. One of them is Ari Folman’s The Congress. The other one is a German film called Wetlands, which was just in Sundance. Both of those are programmed by Andres Castillo [Managing Director & Senior Programmer of MIFF].”

But those looking for interesting experimental cinema need not look further than Miami’s own backyard. Local filmmakers took the spotlight at the press conference announcing this year’s line-up. Click through the image below of some of these filmmakers on stage with Laplante at Miami-Dade College’s Wolfson campus to hear a little from them:

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You can watch the complete (uncensored) press conference below:

Finally, there’s a more focused article on local filmmakers that will be available in this month’s issue of “Pure Honey,” a ‘zine that can be found at hip independent shops and cafes across the Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County area. Or you can read the article, by jumping through the “Pure Honey” logo below:

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Of course, MIFF is also about getting the stars down to Miami. Though some big ones have already been booked, including what some would consider “living legends,” when Laplante and I spoke, he was still working on inviting a few more. Here’s Laplante on some of the festival guests that will walk the red carpet this year: “We’re still confirming a lot of our guests, but Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer are attending our opening night gala presentation [for Elsa & Fred], as well as director Michael Radford. We have Andy Garcia and Raymond de Filitta confirmed for our award night film Rob the Mob, a world premiere. We have, of course, John Turturro, who we are paying tribute to. He will be here to accept the tribute award in person. Shep Gordon is going to be coming and speaking about his experiences making the movie [Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon] with Mike Myers. Most, if not all, the directors in the competition will be here, as well as the directors from the Lexus Opera Prima Competition and we’re still, as I said, working on other guests, but those are some names I can tell you are confirmed now.”

The Miami International Film Festival runs March 7 – March 16 and takes place in several venues across Miami-Dade. For tickets and more info visit miamifilmfestival.com.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)