A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a weird cinematic tapestry. The Farsi film pulls from influences as disparate as Alejandro Jodorowsky and Bruce Lee; the plot involves muscle cars and vampires. The story developed by writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour focuses on the trials and tribulations of Arash, a handsome James Dean–type figure played by Arash Marandi. Arash lives in the nightmarish town of "Bad City"—Bakersfield, California, playing an abandoned city in Iran. The ghost town is stalked by a chador-cloaked, jeans-wearing, skateboard-riding vampire known only as "the Girl," played by Sheila Vand. Fate draws the two characters together when a drug dealer steals Arash's coveted '57 Thunderbird convertible to settle a debt racked up by Arash's junkie father. In his effort to get back his only thing of value he lands in the arms of the 187-year-old girl bloodsucker.
"However Iranian this film is is exactly how Iranian I am..." Amirpour recently said to me over a beer in Brooklyn. Her background is diverse. She was born in Britain to Iranian parents, but she grew up in Bakersfield and Miami and spent her youth bumming around skating, watching weird porn, and devouring all the movies and music in sight. She went to college for biology but dropped out to snowboard. Later, she studied art and film at UCLA and came into her own as an artist in Berlin. A Girl Walks Home, her first feature, is "truly a mash-up that is composed of all of my parts," she told me.
The movie premiered at Sundance this summer, was produced by Elijah Wood's production company SpectreVision, and is being distributed by VICE Films. Here's what Amirpour had to say about her remarkable film.
VICE: Are you a kind of vagabond child, coming from all of these different backgrounds?
Ana Lily Amirpour: The world has become vagabond. It starts to become more and more absurd and irrelevant to me to label something Iranian or this or that. We're all mushing into a big stew. Some people have parents from Iran who were born in Europe and live in America. It's all a stew. Is my film Iranian? I don't know. The notion of what nationality I am or the film is is becoming more murky the more I talk about it. And I've been talking about it for like nine months. I don't really have answers. But because you get asked about it so much, you're forced to think about the question a lot. It's making me think about what America is and, in a larger sense, what the world is becoming.
I see movies all the time that specifically adhere to boundaries. You're blurring them, which makes it interesting.
I've met a lot of people who are Iranians in my situation who say, "It's crazy to see an Iranian film where I feel like I can relate to the mix of being Iranian and American and all this stuff." So it's interesting.
How did you get this movie made?
How did I get it made? That's like a big question to ask.
This is a big interview.
I truly believe that all the stuff that I've done—from coming out of my mother's vagina all the way up until I started shooting films—led to this. It's all building on itself. I wrote another Iranian feature-length drama about youth culture in Iran that got certain awards and things, which led me to meet Sheila and led me to meet Marshall [Manesh] and Dominic [Rains] and all these actors. If I hadn't written that, I wouldn't have met them. They became the DNA of the idea. If my dad didn't buy this '57 T-Bird that he restored over 15 years, would the film exist? If my parents didn't emigrate to America, the film would disappear like the picture in Back to the Future.
That's totally true. You never know where something will take you. But also in more practical terms, how did you get it made?
It's so weird and specific and singular. I think I made it very easy for me because from the beginning I was telling Sheila, "I wanna do this black-and-white Iranian vampire film, stylized and tricked out like Rumblefish. It's gonna be like a fairy tale and I want you to be the vampire," and she was in. And then I got the rest of the cast that way. Once I had them, I wrote the script. It was so specific. If it's that freaky and weird, it's almost easy because you can't have a mid-range reaction, you know? People were like, Oh, yes, can I read the script? And then they read the script and were like,Black-and-white and Farsi! When I was looking for investors, a few people were like, "It's great, we love the script. Let's do it in English." And I was like, You're a fucking idiot. It's an Iranian fairytale, it's gonna be in Farsi. The next question after that becomes, "Yeah, it's great. Do it in color!" And the question after that was some other stupid question.
"Can you do it with white American actors?"
So from that point of view, it was easy. As a human being and in life, it's like if I really want to do something, I'll just fucking do it.
Also, A Girl Walks Home is based on your earlier short film, though it's much more expanded version of it.
When I did the short film, I had the chador. I put it on and was instantly like,I'm a vampire. This is an Iranian vampire. This is her. I made a short because I love that idea, and thought it should be black-and-white. And then I went to Germany and was living there doing another short. I had three other films that I was trying to do before I left. Germany is the opposite of America, you can be as weird as you want and there's no taboo about what a film can be about. It's a really cool space cut off from this shit. I was just like what do I want to do? I loved that character. So when I came back, I convinced everyone to get involved. I was super industrious.
What's your writing process like?
When I'm writing, I usually have five to ten scenes right at the beginning. I knew I wanted him to pierce her ears at the fucking power plant. I didn't know how they were gonna get there, and then you have to give explanations for all the things you drop in your little stew... But I knew I wanted them to meet the way they did on the street, with him dressed like that. I figured out how many scenes to make when I was in film school by looking at all my favorite movies like Gummo and True Romance—they all have ten memorable scenes.
Now they have movies with 20 endings.
Twenty endings, 20 beginnings, three main characters—you don't know what the fuck is going on. So many visual effects that it's like going to a bachelor party. The next day you don't really know what happened. It's a blur of images.
But you think it was a good time.
The world that you make in your movie is so fleshed out, especially for a first feature. Can you talk about what Bad City means to you and where it came from?
Really, at the heart, my favorite thing about making a film is constructing the world. It's what I've been doing since I was like five years old. OK, this is the world and there's this evil guy that lives in the castle and then this is the most valuable precious diamond and you've gotta get it and he kidnapped the princess so you've gotta save her but there's a dragon... You know, it's creating your own universe, like a fairy tale. Those are the movies I loved, like NeverEnding Story and Legend. All the movies I love are like a fairytales in a way. Making a world is like being inside a dream. There's no loyalty to the real world. Fuck the real world. You're not going to a movie to understand the real world directly. You're in a movie to understand real emotion. It can be anything you want.
The music is integral to the film.
The soundtrack, which I'm very proud of, is coming out from Death Waltz Records. They're the shit for cult movie soundtracks. I'm proud and honored to be a part of their roster. They're doing limited art and pressing it on vinyl. Who gets to do that anymore? It'll be out in January.
Whenever I'm writing I usually start with music that feels like a scene or a character. I was listening to Radio Tehran and Kiosk, two Iranian rock bands who sound like the Cure or the Pixies. They have this really awesome emo kind of sound. And I knew them, so I got them on board really early on. And I met Collin [Hegna] from the Brian Jonestown Massacre after a show telling him about the film and he was like, "I have this side project that's like Ennio Morricone melancholy spaghetti Western music," and he sent me all his stuff and I was like, This is the sound of the whole movie. It's the music spine of the whole movie.
I feel like a big influence on you must be Jim Jarmusch.
Not at all—everyone says that, though. I take that as a compliment. I knew Jarmusch was making a vampire film, but no two people fuck the same. It's gonna be different. I told Sheila, "Me and this dude are huffing on the same fumes." You can go two directions with a vampire—either super-existential life-contemplative-type shit or violent-massacre-bloodcount. But a film is like a mirror for each person to see something of themselves in. The Jarmusch questions say more about the person asking than they do about me.
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