A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2013)
Written & Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
In the decaying Iranian spot of Bad City, The Girl wanders through the night, a vampire clad in hijab and chador, feasting on the not so innocent denizens. Arash is a young man struggling to make ends meet, taking care of his heroin-addicted father who owes money to local drug dealer Saeed. Arash and The Girl’s paths meander around each other for a while before their fateful meeting. A connection is felt between them, and she withdraws, scared to feel connected to a human. No matter how far she runs, invisible forces are intent on bringing them together, weaving a story of comedy and tragedy.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night doesn’t try to hide the apparent influences: David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, Sergio Leone. As stylistically referential, as the film is, the picture feels fresh and unique. The plot is relatively simple if you boil it down to its essential components, but is also rich in theme and ambiguity. The reason why the film is such a complex and complicated picture has to do with the artist behind it and the production.
Director Amirpour is an English born, American raised woman of Iranian descent. She suffers from 30% hearing loss, so the emphasis on visuals over dialogue in the picture is directly related to her condition. Amirpour was exposed to horror early on, first in watching her father perform surgery and later through cinema like The Exorcist and A Nightmare on Elm Street. She explained in an interview that her parents are incredibly progressive, her father proclaiming he was an atheist in opposition to his traditional Muslim upbringing. Being a Westernized Iranian woman led Amirpour to opportunities women in the nation of Iran don’t often have. The idea of a woman directing a film would be questionable in that country. A Girl Walks would never be allowed in Iran because it incorporates taboo elements like vampires, prostitution, drugs, transgender people, and a whole host of concepts that are forbidden.
One of the most striking elements that Amirpour uses is the chador, a piece of women’s dress in the Muslim religion. The Girl dons this cloak when she goes out at night on the hunt. By incorporating a piece of clothing seen by some as sacred and others as oppressive, she repurposes it into something powerful and frightening. The chador is compared to the vampire’s cape seen in Dracula, a sweeping icon that is imbued with mythic elements through Amirpour’s use.
Amirpour is not interested in making large about any of the cultures she is a part of, instead she wants to weave together images and tropes together to create a tableau of mood and aesthetics. If you’re going to compare her work to a contemporary, I would cite Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow, Mandy) because both filmmakers are very influenced by formative cinema from their youth and have reused the iconography of those movies to create wholly original works. There’s an effort to paint in broad swathes and hint at a long trouble history for both Bad City, its citizens, and The Girl. Because we’re peering into a world that has existed long before the opening of the film we don’t get a tight resolution. This world and these characters will go on living whether we are present to watch them or not.