With its nocturnal outcasts coolly roaming semi-industrial streets and transfigured by music, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night begs comparison to Jim Jarmusch. Yet its simmering sense of discontent and alienation—inspired by director Ana Lily Amirpour’s own dissociative feelings while wearing a chador on a previous shoot—expand into a subtle commentary on sexual politics in Iran.
Lawn worker Arash (Arash Marandi) feels crushed by the weight of the country’s patriarchy, though not as one might expect: he takes care of his father, a widowed heroin addict deeply in debt to drug dealer Saeed (Dominic Rains). This tense situation is abruptly resolved when a young woman in a chador (Sheila Vand, credited only as The Girl) follows Saeed back to his palatial residence and exsanguinates him. Arash makes off with his money and stash, and begins a more lucrative second career selling party drugs. When Arash crosses paths with The Girl, his playful yet respectful approach leads her to spare his life, and they embark on a sensual but laconic relationship.
Amirpour privileges image over dialogue and, sometimes, story. Her images—a down-market infomercial advertising a “safety net” for women when their husbands die, a raver in a Ronald Reagan mask, a transgender woman dancing slowly in the dawn’s light, an aging prostitute keying a muscle car—are rich with implication in an Iranian context, and serve as a corrective to Western preconceptions.