A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Contesting Cultural Expectations
By: Tessa Lillis
Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night stupefied audiences when it was first released in 2014, for it was pegged with a decidedly specific genre: as the first Iranian vampire western film.
The film follows Arash, a young man attempting to provide for himself and his father in a place called Bad City. It tracks his encounter with The Girl, a lonely vampire who stalks the deserted streets at night.
Effortlessly the film combines romanticism and horror with questions of moral clarity and ambiguity.
Moreso A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night offers a unique cultural perspective for western audiences. The current political climate and widespread xenophobia witnessed in recent years makes films such as this even more meaningful and enjoyable, especially in its glaring defiance of cultural assumptions.
From the opening shot of the film, the instant homage to the classic 1950’s Hollywood era is blatantly apparent, as Arash is dressed almost identically to several quintessential actors of the time. Marlon Brando and James Dean pointedly come to mind, considering that Arash is donning a tight white shirt, dark denim, and is smoking a cigarette. The soundtrack chimes in with a song in Farsi as the camera follows Arash approaching his vintage thunderbird: a prized possession and vehicle evidently representative of American status. This opening explicitly reveals that the remainder of the film will not be typically Iranian or American, but instead an eclectic mix of the two.
The overall genre of the film, which draws heavily on classic western and film noir, makes one question why Amirpour would choose to direct a film which is as some have noted extremely representative of American cinema. In fact, Amirpour has stated in an interview with the Vilcek Foundation that “if [her] parents hadn’t left [Iran] and come to America, [she] wouldn’t have made this movie”. While these cinematic approaches may be seen as juxtaposing, Amirpour integrates contemporary Iranian and American styles with ease, perhaps gesturing to her own upbringing in an Iranian family integrating into American society, her dual perspective.
The Girl’s appearance is a further continuation of the influence of not only American cinema, but European cinema as well. The Girl is casually dressed in a striped benetton shirt, seen skateboarding through the streets with her jet black chador flying behind her. The ensemble is immediately recognisable as the ultimate costume of the French New Wave cinema, specifically referencing Jean Seberg in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. This is yet another example of the effortless integration of Western and Middle Eastern customs, as the chador with the striped benetton compliment each other perfectly.
The film contains evident references to German Expressionism, not only due to the fact that the entire genre of horror is rooted in this era but equally the film utilises techniques such as extreme shadows and manipulation of lighting to further a sense of unease. There are characteristics of Italian Neorealism found here as well, with shots being long and drawn out in comparison to the quick shots and jumpcuts used in typical American films. These prolonged shots offer a higher degree of both intimacy and fear, exhibiting Amirpour’s ability to smoothly blend culture and genre.
In the pan-cultural environment presented in the film the one character who seems to struggle the most is Arash’s father, Hossein, who could be seen as a general representation of the older generation. Hossein is incapable of coping with the hostile and complex environment which the film sets up, and instead chooses to rely on distractions: heroine, mindless entertainment, and other fruitless activity. The responsibility then falls on Arash to not only pay for his heroine addiction, but to discover the best way of coping with, and perhaps fleeing Bad City. Amirpour may signify the younger generation and our responsibility to adapt and thrive in the more intricate environments of the 21st century, act and thrive instead of shutting our doors and searching for distraction.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night offers its audience an unparalleled glimpse into the unification of Middle Eastern and Western cultures, preventing the film from being an easily identifiable film. Roger Ebert even stated that “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a film about film, a fresh and exciting re-imagining of a well-worn oft-told genre”. It is paramount to remember that ignorance and aversion to multiculturalism places a lock on the door, barring the creation of exquisite films such as this one.
Watch the trailer below.
All gifs and pictures are credited to Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), Say Ahh Productions