A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is on DVD now from Madman Films. Available at JB HiFi and other home entertainment retailers.
Style over substance is a criticism commonly leveled at films. A condition where more attention was seemingly given to the look, perhaps in a somewhat superfluous fashion, than the meaning. There is little beyond the beauty, the breathtaking fashion in which a song ingraines itself in a scene, or the camera lingers on bodies moving in slow motion. It’s intended to dazzle, and not much else.
When watching A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, it seems a certainty that this term was invented solely for this film. Indebted to Jarmusch, James Dean, spaghetti westerns, and a hodgepodge of other genres that could have never thought to be compatible, the film is the type to be quickly labeled as a shallow stylistic experiment, a cobbling of influences without much originality.
Except it isn’t. It defies all expectation to become something beautiful and magical, something difficult to categorise, articulate or explain, something that I’ve returned to repeatedly because of the mysterious air that surrounds it.
Amirpour has set her film in Bad City, a fictional Iranian town that has more in common with Sin City than Tehran. While it was filmed in California, it features a wholly Iranian cast, and is in Farsi. It’s an Iran never seen on film. The country is commonly only seen in films rightfully commenting on the political and social climate in the country, films that inspire discussion and social change, but don’t portray the nuances of the population, the commonalities between there and the west.
It’s a film not remembered in quotes but images, juxtaposing and powerful renderings that only serve to make the film so memorable. A girl skateboarding down a deserted street in the black of night, chador billowing behind her like bat wings. A disco ball spinning. A mid-1950s Ford Thunderbird in a parking lot.
Amirpour mixes these influences smoothly and deftly, penning a scant script that allows her small cast of characters to develop and the narrative to emerge naturally from the background of the town she creates.
She chooses to linger on two lost souls that wander the town, that rise with the moon and disappear with the sun. She gets to know them, observe them and their lives until she chooses to effortlessly pull them together in a hypnotic scene. One is The Girl (Sheila Vand), a skateboard riding vagabond whose room is plastered with 80s rock posters; and the other is Arash (Arash Marandi), a white t-shirt wearing guy ripped straight from the set of Rebel Without a Cause.
As they quietly converge, having their stories develop separately, it feels like the type of film that if it were to focus on a different moment, to shift the camera slightly to the left at one point or another, the story would be entirely different. Bad City is a town that is far from fully explored, with more stories like The Girl and Arash down each corner. Despite its evident contemporaries, it’s a film with a depth of mythology and imagination that makes it continually fascinating.