Ana Lily Amirpour on “accidental feminism” & the versatility of vampires

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night’s Ana Lily Amirpour on her vampire debut

The Girl (Sheila Vand) gets close to Arash (Arash Marandi) in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
The Girl (Sheila Vand) gets close to Arash (Arash Marandi) in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
The Girl (Sheila Vand) gets close to Arash (Arash Marandi) in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Ana Lily Armirpour’s black and white Iranian vampire movie A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night finally arrives on UK screens on Friday. Deeply stylish, very funny and totally beguiling, it’s a film that deserves the buzz.

Set in Bad City, it follows Arash (Arash Marandi), a handsome loner who struggles to care for his aging drug addicted father, and The Girl (Sheila Vand), a chador-clad vampire who stalks the night-time streets.

We sat down with the writer-director to discuss her inspirations (a question made a little redundant by the heart-shaped Lynch badge on her sweater), her movie’s hard sell, and her reaction to how audiences have been interpreting it. As we walked in, Amirpour explained that she’d just been talking about soundtracks, so that’s where we started…

So what’s your favourite movie soundtrack?

Sometimes you get questions like ‘”How did you think of the idea,” it’s practically impossible to find an answer for, really, like a good concise one. But what are your favourite movie soundtracks…I realised it’s like Pulp Fiction or Back To The Future, like [sings the Back To The Future theme] and you can see the moment and with Pulp Fiction, if you listen to that soundtrack, it’s like you’re watching the movie. And it’s the best. Even with Neverending Story. “Look around…” Have you seen that music video? It’s really so amazing! It’s one of the funniest things ever. Recently I liked Drive, the soundtrack to 127 Hours was really good. Richard Donner’s Superman. Dirty Dancing. I’m sorry, but it’s good [laughs].

I guess we have to ask the annoying question of where the idea for A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night came from…

It was the chador. It was a prop for another film, and I just grabbed it, put it on and I just directly felt like a bat, a stingray, like it moves a certain way, I just felt like a creature. And then I was like “Oh yeah, of course, this is an Iranian vampire in a brilliant disguise.” I thought “Ah, nobody’s going to expect anything from her.” So it’s kind of like the gateway to the whole story was from her.

I wanted to ask about the graphic novel influence as well, I know you’ve talked before about Frank Miller…

Yes, I mean, I am influenced by comic books. I think Archie was my first, I was obsessed with Archie. And then I got into more cerebral kind of stuff like Charles Burns and Crumb and Jim Phillips, skateboard art, Frank Miller for sure. And there is an element of that but really it was more Rumble Fish, Coppola’s film. That was really the visual palette and style; I was kind of in that. Which is kind a little bit graphic novelized but it’s more like noir, surreal.

AGirlWalksHomeAloneAtNightThere does seem to be an influence from David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch as well.

Jarmusch no, I’m actually not really a fan in a way. It’s so funny because so many people bring it up. I did absolutely love his vampire film [Only Lovers Left Alive] which I saw, so we must have been making them at exactly the same time and then I saw it with Sheila [Vand], my vampire, we went together. She’s just putting on music and dancing in her room and getting all weird, and it was just “Whoa, me and him are clearly huffing on the same vampire gas!” But I never really was into his early films, I found them quite boring, so maybe it means my film’s boring…[laughs] But no, I’m much more into Lynch and Sergio Leone and Robert Zemeckis and John Landis. It’s weird how many things you obsess on.

But also a film, a particular thing that you’re making, leads you to certain corners of your obsessions. I always loved James Dean but I definitely heavily fixated during the last film on him and went way more into him with Arash. I was thinking of him as like James Dean meets The Elephant Man, like he didn’t belong there and it’s weird, like the elephant man on the inside, James Dean on the outside. And on the next film it’s Brigitte Bardot so I’m watching all her films and getting into her. It’s kind of like in movies, the ultimate movie star is James Dean and the ultimate movie starlet is Brigitte Bardot.

Sometimes filmmakers say that influences or perceived references are unintentional, it’s interesting when they’re very much intended!

For sure. I’m 100% unapologetically a composite of my influences. I think it’s ridiculous if someone says they aren’t. Because I mean, think of the average person. How many films and TV shows have they seen in a lifetime? Hundreds maybe thousands, how can you not? It’s like the way you communicate and understand people and each other and the world, that’s how I grew up.

I remember Thriller, when I saw Thriller as a kid, that was this thing. Something happened. I had it on VHS and there’s a making of documentary with John Landis. After he died they locked down all his stuff and they won’t release that, but I had the VHS, I watched the making of part every day when I was a kid. And then last summer I transferred it to DVD and watched it again and I was just like “Oh my God, this is just like clearly my film school.” Because the way he behaved on set even, you watch him and you’re like “Ah! That’s where I got that idea!”

Back To The Future 1 and 2, and Lynch, I got into Lynch later. The stuff that when you’re a kid, you’re super into, I loved Cloak and Dagger, I loved Eddie Murphy, his golden decade of every movie was awesome, Beverly Hills Cop, Golden Child, Coming To America. And Neverending Story for sure. When that horse sinks in the swamp of sadness, I’m certain that that’s when the real true feeling of loss was first…because I can’t think of something more…I think that was my first construction of loss. Fuck, man! Artax! It’s savage!

When I think about the movies that kids watch now, because I also loved Return To Oz. Oh my god, I loved it. The Wheelers, they were so scary, and the witch with the heads…so good! Gremlins! Gremlins is brilliant and awesome, if you watch it it’s really fucking dark. It’s so good. They don’t make ‘em like that any more! If you’re 9 or 10 years old now you’re watching Frozen. I watched a lot of horror films when I was a kid, from like 7 or 8 years old to 14 I watched every horror movie. I watched all of it. And now I kind of don’t watch horror films. I like sci-fi or fantasy. Did you see Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes? So good. Did you see The Guest? Fuck. I shouted out loud during that movie several times. Like “Yeah!”

Writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour

How have you been finding the reaction to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night at festivals so far? Have you found that people have been coming to you with their interpretation of it, as a feminist movie? 

Yeah. I mean if I heard “Oh hey guys, let’s go watch this black and white Iranian film.” Forget the vampire part even, like those two things are repellent. Urgh, god, no, what a terrible idea. Yeah, I don’t even like black and white movies that much; it’s so weird that I made one. For sure people do, people call me a feminist.

I mean, it’s weird when you make a film because the part where you’re actually writing and doing and shooting and editing, that’s when I’m involved. Now it’s just kind of like, it’s like talking about someone you were in love with two years ago. Yeah, I loved that film. But it’s not really…and plus my relationship to my film is kind of like my relationship to my reflection in the mirror. It’s like, how often do you really look at yourself, how many times a day, and then when you do, you make a “I’m looking at myself face.” It’s subconscious but you’re doing it. You’re in this time seeing all the myriad of shit that’s going on more than I am. You know better what my film is really about than I do.

Are you surprised when people call it a feminist film? Is it something that you were thinking about while making it?

I think when people say that, there’s gotta be something. I’m not being totally nihilistic and saying, “Oh, I don’t know.” It’s clearly I have “I’m lonely and I love music and I don’t want to die and I…” clearly there’s some drugs in the movie, she’s kind of a tomboy, like a little bit androgynous and a tomboy and tough and could fuck you up. The feminist thing, the avenger thing, I think is an interesting thing, maybe there is something like that.

I wonder if when Tarantino made Kill Bill, did people say he was being a feminist? It’s weird. I wonder if like “Oh a female and so she’s battling misogyny.” For myself I was very hyperconscious about the idea of good and bad because that’s very much one of the big things inside the story, is like who’s good and bad, and how you never really know people. There’s a certain level of stupidity that we have to operate with in order to have these connections and distractions and good and bad, it’s just so interesting, good and bad. Because it’s relative in my experience and so it’s tricky because you have to always think about it. The feminist thing, it always comes up and I find it really interesting to find an avenue that interests me to talk about this because people are clearly fixated on it and want to talk about it, so I’m constantly trying to figure out.

A Girl Walks HomeThere’s definitely a great sense of humour to it too, there were some good laughs at the screening we went to.

I love it when people say that and it’s different because I’ve shown it in France, I’ve shown it in Spain, in different countries with different subtitles I think it plays different. Because I felt like in Deauville they didn’t laugh at some of the jokes. Here everybody really got the sense of humour so that’s cool. Yeah, life is absurd. Even Lynch, the darkest weirdest shit will happen but it’s also…like Bobby Peru in Wild At Heart, the fuck me scene. I love Wild At Heart; it’s just the best. Bobby Peru is the ultimate gangster of all time in my opinion, there’s no greater. “Fuck me! You jump fast, bunny jump slow! Can I pee on your head? Not your head head!” But there’s something funny about him. So it’s just like maybe it’s me. I think life is funny. I hope so!

You mentioned Jim Jarmusch’s vampire movie; when we talked to Xan Cassavetes about Kiss Of The Damned she said that she thought vampire movies allowed a director to put their personal stamp on the genre, that they can be have that artistic statement to them. Do you feel like that about them?

It is like that. My next film is about cannibals and it’s different, my own different version of it, but there is the physics of the real world, it’s grounded in a different way because a vampire is really in a way the ultimate mythical, supernatural character. It looks good, so it can be this beautiful thing, horribly terrifying, drug addict, historian, romantic, everything! Serial killer, savage, and so also like the ultimate fan of something, centuries long obsession. It’s obsession, it’s crazy.

And then you have Nosferatu and Lost Boys or Once Bitten! I loved Anne Rice, I read all the books, that was my first gateway into vampire stuff and Coppola did it, Bigelow’s done it, Jarmusch just did it, Spike Lee’s done it. It’s not just for…it’s limitless. Yeah, it is. It’s weird. And people were saying that. Like “Oh, Twilight makes us think the vampire thing…”I was like “Really? Twilight did that? Come on, don’t give Twilight that much credit.”

Can you tell us anything about your cannibal movie?

It’s called The Bad Batch and it’s a desert-set post-apocalyptic love story set in the desert in Texas about a big cannibal who basically falls in love with his food. Don’t play with your food! It’s got a really, really dope soundtrack, it’s like a psychedelic El Topo!

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is released in UK cinemas on Friday 22 May and you can read our review here. Keep up with the latest genre news with the new issue of SciFiNow.