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Nostalgic Returns

by Ethan Tussey

by Sara Saljoughi for IN MEDIA RES

This clip from Ana Lily Amirpour's wildly successful film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) operates through nostalgia for a "lost" period of Iranian representation. The character in this scene is the prostitute at the center of the film. We watch her dance from the point-of-view of her client, a middle-aged (opium-addicted) Iranian man. The song, "Cheshme Man" by Iranian superstar singer, Dariush, provides a direct link to Iran prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, as well as to a nostalgic Iranian diaspora.

The dance references the dominant position occupied by women in commercial Iranian cinema prior to the Revolution. Often featuring women as performers in nightclubs and cabarets, this mode of representation was a focal point for the backlash against cinema as a vehicle for Western imperialism. It was also rejected by its contemporaneous radical cinema, the Iranian New Wave.

The film uses nostalgia for the pre-revolutionary period to present itself under the guise of the new--an Iranian vampire Western! But it does so through the "old"--an all too familiar dependency on the female body. Here, the female body is confined to yet another binary: to either soothe, administer, and seduce, as in the case of the dancing prostitute, or to replete others in the interest of self-preservation, as with the vampire.

A Girl Walks Home Alone taps into the West's cultural interest in Iran and the desire to move away from largely negative representations of the country that isolate it from the rest of the world. It visually inserts "things Iranian" (language, music) into a familiar landscape of Western styles, from Fellini, to the French New Wave, and Westerns, to film noir. But the return of the figure of the dancing nightclub performer by way of the prostitute suggests a troubling relationship between a nostalgic return and an investment in creating new, positive associations with Iran. What does the film gain by returning to this particular moment in Iranian cinema?

We might consider that, on the one hand, despite the female driven narrative, the use of nostalgia in fact reinforces woman as spectacle. On the other hand, the figure of the young, female vampire who speaks accented Persian is a coy wink to the hysteria over the image of woman on Iranian screens. Does this figure also suggest the rejection of the imagined spectator of Iranian cinema as always heterosexually male? The vampire is after all, the custodian of Bad City. She stalks the inhabitants and is the one who is always watching.

Arab Representation and Vampires

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A clip From "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"

from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Creator: Ana Lily Amirpour
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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