Set in the fictional Iranian town of Bad City, Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a wide-screen fever dream, laced with subtle emotion and raw beauty.
The movie opens with Arash (Arash Marandi), the male protagonist, looking like a latter-day James Dean leaning against a fence in a t-shirt, jeans, and a silver-tipped belt. He is part-desperado, part-greaser, part something else. Unlike the tumbleweed cowboys to which the film pays homage, masculine to the last angle of their face, Arash is beautiful in a soft, long-lashed way. A gardener to a wealthy family, he is burdened by his father’s drug addiction and mounting pressure to pay up from the local hustler and pimp. The gangster seizes Arash’s prized Thunderbird as collateral for his father’s debts.
Meanwhile, the titular girl (Sheila Vand) appears, always at night, clad in an open chador and riding a skateboard. She haunts local ongoings, watching the pimp shake down a prostitute and eventually exacting vampirical revenge and doling out silent justice.
The girl and Arash cross paths, and she invites him into her apartment, an underground refuge of art, music, and stylish rebellion. Their attraction hums gently, bound by a sweet mutual otherness in this godforsaken town. The iconography of the girl says almost everything about the film – a mélange of references to silent film, Westerns, Iran, and the French new wave. Her short haircut and striped Breton shirt appear to be a nod to Jean Seberg, while the poster on her wall with Margaret Atwood styled like Blondie is a sly reference to her rebellious feminism. Even the chador, a visual pun on a vampire’s cape, is subverted in an ambiguous way.
This is the small genius of the film, where style occupies a central role. While the film teeters on being overly long, its moments of reverie are moving meditations: the prostitute dancing in a Western shirt with white fringe swaying from the pockets, the slow shots resting on The Girl’s placid face, Arash cutting ferns amidst a topiary backdrop. The patterned flatness of the film allows the references to sink back and something new to come forward. Shot in California, Amirpour’s idiosyncratic blend is tied to Iran as much or as little as everything else that it references. In an interview, the California-bred director was asked about the Iranian inspiration, replying: “I did go to Iran, finally, but that’s completely alien to me,” she said. “It’s weird, because Sheila [Vand] and I were talking about how, with this movie, we kind of made our own place that was as Iranian as we are, which is a mash-up of so many things.”
Through a cultural kaleidoscope, Amirpour portrays an unlikely romance and speaks to the desire for purity, connection, and escape from a dead-end place.
Shop the movie, clockwise from left: Liberty Boot Co. Patent Leather Boots, Keds Sneakers, Silver-Tipped Belt, Rockmount Western Shirt, St. James Breton Shirt, Kohl, Natalia Brilli Skateboard Necklace, Liberty Boot Co. Agave Fiber Embroidered Boots, Kiosk Music, White Lies Music, Ennico Morricone Music, Antique Persian Shawls.