Today we’re going to look at another lady-driven monster movie, this one about an Iranian vampire. The movie is Ana Lily Amirpour’s…
This is a weird one. It calls itself an “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western,” but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. The director was born in Britain and lives in America. It was filmed in California, using primarily American (well, Iranian-American) actors. Don’t get me wrong, I love this movie… but this is an American movie. And ugh, this is a bullshit tangent that doesn’t matter, because this movie is beautiful and amazing. Amirpour channels Jarmusch, Tarantino, and Coppola (well, primarily Rumble Fish).
Everything’s filmed in high-contrast black and white. It’s slow and extremely stylish.
There are a few strange choices. There’s an Iranian pimp, the true antagonist of the movie and a real shitbag. He steals the main character’s car as payment for his father’s heroin debts. He takes all of the earnings from one of his hookers and then forces her into demeaning situations. All fairly standard “bad-guy-pimp” behavior. The odd choice is that the dude looks exactly like the dude from Die Antwoord. Face tattoos, weird crappy moustache, hi-top fade. Also– spoiler alert– he gets eaten in the first half-hour of the movie, and the rest of the movie follows the unfolding and intersecting of the remaining characters in the vacuum left behind by his death, in a very Tarantino-esque inevitable collision.
The characters, by the way, are pretty fascinating. Arash is a young man who works as a general handyman, who exudes that 50s-white-T, James Dean, Rusty James-type cool. His father (played by Marshall Manesh, who you’d recognize if you saw) is a junkie, deep in debt. Saeed is the gross-ass pimp (who steals Arash’s convertible). Atti is a hooker (played fantastically by Mozhan MarnÃ², who you’d also recognize). These characters are all racked by tumultuous inner turmoil, and the most racked of all is the titular character, played beautifully by Sheila Vand. At points, she seems to be projecting RenÃ©e Jeanne Falconetti from The Passion of Joan of Arc, all huge winsome eyes, suffering, and tragic circumstance.
Other times, that tragedy is tempered by fun.
And lest you forget, she’s a vampire. She murders a few people, threatens a few more, the entire time looking beautiful and exotic, eyes all kohl, black lipstick, chador acting as an impromptu (and effective) black cape.
So: outstanding cast; incredible cinematography; great style; excellent pacing. This movie’s got a lot going for it already. What brings it all home, and actually manages to make the whole thing cohere, is the soundtrack.
The movie opens with expansive twangy spaghetti instrumental Western music from Portland band Federale, which carries throughout. Periodically, Persian music makes appearances– Iranian bands Kiosk and Radio Tehran knock it out of the park as well. But the heart and soul of this movie is in the New Wave / Post-Punk stuff, mostly by British band White Lies. This soundtrack is really fucking good, especially in conjunction with the beautiful imagery.
I really liked this movie, and I’m really, really looking forward to her next one (The Bad Batch, which she calls a ‘postapocalyptic cannibal love story,’ and which stars Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, and Jim Carrey. What?). That said, I can’t give this a full perfect score– I feel like the influences are too heavy on her sleeve. I kept seeing slow sky shots and thinking of Rumble Fish, or bloody close-ups and thinking Kill Bill, or lingering interpersonal reactions and thinking Stranger Than Paradise. The decision to base Saeed so heavily on the Die Antwoord guy pulled me out of it the entire time he was onscreen– even if it’s interpreted as a choice by this character to adopt that specific look, it broke the narrative for me every time (and yes, your mileage may vary on that score).
Still: watch this movie anyway. Watch it for the cinematography, the cast. Watch it for the inimitable style. Watch it for the soundtrack.
Watch it for the cat, who is awesome, and nearly steals the show in more than a couple scenes.