Début film-maker Ana Lily Amirpour has already won a lot of plaudits for her first feature film, which has been lauded as an innovative and intelligent work that blends elements of Iranian cinema with a strong Lynchian influence that makes the culture clash aspect all the more interesting, and it definitely is all those things. Amirpour’s work is steeped in atmosphere and relies on it heavily to guide the film through its sparse dialogue and deliberate camerawork.
The film stars Sheila Vand in the lead role as the mysterious Girl of the story, a shadowy figure who seems to hand out vigilante justice with a difference in Bad City, a moody, industrial small town that doesn’t seem to be somewhere you’d particularly want to live, judging by the people that we are introduced to. She’s an enigma throughout, but we catch glimpses in to her life and personality largely through her interactions with Arash Marandi’s Arash, whose life brings him in to contact with the Girl, who instantly fascinates him.
Amirpour makes sure to focus on everything she wants you to see, from prolonged and gruesome outbursts of violence to closeups of our main couple doing little more than looking at each other, and lets the nuances of each scene do the work. Sure, the story is simple and could have been shot in any number of different ways, but the way Amirpour chooses to tell it. The Girl is the driving force of the story, and the one who holds the true power in every interaction she has in the film, and Amirpour’s portrayal of her is steeped in subtlety, facial expressions allowed to do the work that words could not, the film being the very example of one that shows rather than tells. Marandi has obviously been cast for his ability to look like an Iranian James Dean, a comparison that has been made plenty of times already and is definitely apt, but despite looking like the main character he dances to the tune of the Girl, in the same way that just about every character does. Amirpour achieves a film here that is intricate, interesting and intelligent, subverting the vampire genre to tell a simple story with a twist. Sure, she wears her influences on her sleeve, but there’s plenty of talent here and it bodes well for her next film, which is touted to feature the likes of Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey and gives her the chance to work with a little more, but it’s this exercise in minimalist film-making that has got her there.