Welcome to the seventh episode of the Hello Cinema Podcast. In this month’s edition, we discuss the soon to be released, black and white, vampire Western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, who was nominated for a Gotham Award for Best Breakthrough Director last week for this film, Girl is an impressive debut feature with a blend of influences ranging from 50s and 60s westerns to the comic-book aesthetic of Marjane Satrapi.
Amirpour joins a growing group of women of Iranian descent who are currently making films in Diaspora, such as the aforementioned Satrapi, Shirin Neshat, Desiree Akhavan and Mitra Farahani. She has set her film in an imagined city in Iran, “Bad City,” in an imagined time, where the vengeful but curiously likeable vampire, played by Sheila Vand, haunts the streets at night looking ominous in her black chador, preying on corrupt victims and searching for personal gain and vigilante justice. Transcending this premise, Amipour offers an interesting take on Iranian culture by using the small population of this bleak, deserted city as a microcosm of the “Iranian” society. On the show, we analyze the aesthetic and thematic preoccupations of the film and the fascinating result of Amirpour’s many influences.
Schedule Introducing… Ana Lily Amirpour 0:00-4:53 A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Synopsis 4:53-13:02 Aesthetics and politics 13:02-17:20 The residents of “Bad City” 17:20-25:45 House parties and horror films in Iranian cinema 25:45-33:56 Closing 33:56-34:33
You can download an .mp3 version of this episode here, or subscribe to our show on iTunes.
Works cited Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) (imdb) Music: “Sonatine” by Maziar Heidari
The general view among Iranians is that their cinema operates not as a systematic enterprise but as a dysfunctional family, an undisciplined, primitive and, to borrow a term from Hamid Naficy, artisanal industry. Never has this been felt more strongly than in the past couple of weeks, where news has spread of a feud between two of the most respected figures in the national film industry, spurring consequent hokey, jingoistic and comical reactions.
The chain of events started in April 2014, when Abbas Kiarostami implicitly criticized Ebrahim Hatamikia without mentioning his name at a filmmaking workshop at Syracuse University. Hatamikia is renowned for his war films, but his more recent works haven’t been as financially or critically successful as his films in the 1990s. His most recent outing, CH, was released around the same time as Kiarostami’s lecture, during which the latter allegedly stated:
“The Iranian audiences have grown weary of war films after so many years, but certain filmmakers still receive large loans from the government to produce these films that don’t sell. One of these filmmakers recently scolded me, saying that ‘while they were fighting the war, Kiarostami was finding his friend’s notebook.’ Actually, Where Is the Friend’s Home? is one of my most popular films. People saw it all over the world and it’s still resonant because it speaks of deep human values. Whereas you have made films that speak about a specific period, a period in Iranian history that is rousing and exciting to impressionable young people, like those who went off to get killed in a meaningless war.”
The war to which he refers is the eight-year conflict between Iran and Iraq, to which the Iranians refer as “The Holy Defense.” Not taking kindly to Kiarostami’s assertions, Hatamikia waited until September and the closing night of a national festival titled “The Festival of Resistance Cinema” to share his grievances on stage while accepting an award for CH. Under fire from progressives who viewed CH with skepticism and accused it of being partial and historically revisionist, Hatamikia did not hold back in his public criticism of Kiarostami, accusing him of the grave – and severely punishable – offenses of insulting the values of The Holy Defense and the martyrs of war. He further claimed that Kiarostami enjoys unfair advantage and protection from authorities and belongs to a movement that is oblivious to the importance of the war. Hatamikia briefly thanked Kiarostami for “raising Iran’s flag at foreign festivals” but nevertheless pleaded directly to the Iranian president, the minister of culture, the head of Iranian Cinema Organization and the head of the Farabi Film Institute to “come forward with their views on the matter.”
This isn’t the first time Hatamikia has made controversial, disparaging remarks about other filmmakers. He was recently in the news criticizing “progressive filmmakers” and picking fights with Asghar Farhadi and Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, so much so that another filmmaker, Kiumars Poorahamd, pleaded to him to stop.
The authorities’ response to Hatamikia’s petulance was measured and thoughtful. Hojattollah Ayoubi, the head of the Cinema Organization, called the release of Kiarostami’s original statements six months after the fact and right in the middle of the “Holy Defense Week” – a week dedicated to celebrating the heroics of soldiers, when reactions to any anti-war sentiments are understandably glorified – a “questionable act” and requested a full transcript of Kiarostami’s lecture to “view the statements in context.” Leaping to Kiarostami’s defense a few days later, Ayoubi went as far as proclaiming that “Kiarostami wholeheartedly loves the Holy Defense!” The Minister of Culture, while remarking that “no one is allowed to bring the war under question,” defended Kiarostami by mentioning that “the war doesn’t only belong to certain individuals.” In the meantime, previous cabinet ministers who were accused of unfairly protecting Kiarostami from censorship came back to the limelight after several years to absolve themselves of that allegation of favouritism.
With accusations, rumors and paws full flung in the air, Kiarostami finally appeared in an interview where he defended his statements in trademark nebulous fashion, stating that “he is categorically opposed to wars, but only finds the Holy Defense meaningless because thousands of Iranian youngsters were killed in a conflict imposed on Iran by Iraq.” He further mentioned that he has “nothing but utmost respect for martyrs and war veterans.” But if you thought that put an end to all the hokey whatabouteries and kicking and screaming, mind this final (or so we think) twist. The head of the Office for Bureaucratic Justice, Hojjatoleslam Montazeri, accused Kiarostami of being a “Westernized alcoholic” whose words about the war he would feel immense shame to even repeat. The reason for this (over)reaction becomes evident when you read Mr. Montazeri’s full speech, where he derides Kiarostami for referring to the war as “a period in Iranian history,” seemingly misunderstanding the director’s words and mistaking them as an equation of the bloodshed of the holy war to menstruation! The period in Iranian history, you see? Did I mention that the Iranian film industry is undisciplined and primitive?