Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive

By Sati. Tuesday, March 4, 2014 , , , , , , , ,
There seems to be at last few additions to Vampire movies subgenre every year nowadays. There are big, loud, obnoxious blockbusters with vampire mythos thrown in there just to attract more audiences and there are small, contemplative movies that won't make big money and won't win any awards (horror genre and everything connected to it is notoriously overlooked when awards are handed out) but they have a chance of becoming cult classic in the future.

Decades ago it happened with Tony Scott's Hunger. It didn't get any accolades upon its release and now it's considered to be one of the most famous and atmospheric vampire movies out there. While Only Lovers Left Alive is not lacking flaws it has that one thing that distinguishes good vampire films from shameless, soulless cash grabs - sensuality.
The film follows two vampires - joyful, outgoing Eve (a wonderful Tilda Swinton) who lives in Tangiers and suicidal and gloomy Adam (perfectly cast Tom Hiddleston), who lives a sheltered life in Detroit. Eve meets with her friend Christopher Marlowe who helps her get blood and spends her nights appreciating books, nature and the world around her. Adam only goes out to freak the local doctor into giving him blood and then stays home, playing music.

These two are lovers - they are not currently living together but they got married centuries ago and they still keep in touch.When Eve calls Adam she senses something being wrong and she flies over. Her presence helps Adam, who is growing increasingly disenchanted with the world and the way that people (or as he calls us - zombies) are treating our planet and things and individuals that could improve it.
Adam shows Eve around his house, which he mostly designed so he wouldn't need to depend on anyone. He takes her for a drive and shows her the local attractions, while she tries to cheer him up and loves him so much she voluntarily wants to hear the stories he told her before just to make him happy. Their peaceful existence in Adam's house is disrupted by the arrival of Eve's sister - Ava (Mia Wasikowska).

Only Lovers Left Alive is one of those movies you feel and cherish rather than understand and ponder upon. It's a movie that focuses on details without ever giving us the whole picture. Everything in between is filled in with atmosphere, sensuality and ultimately - mystery. Its script is minimalistic and the characters painted without much subtlety, but then again maybe the perfect vampire movie should be experienced, not meticulously put together by the director and then deconstructed by the audience?
Take the character of Adam, for example. Mysterious, charismatic, handsome. A perfect vampire. But you start to analyze his character and it all doesn't make sense - he loves music and loves Eve yet he wants to die. He has a gift of immortally and he is wasting that and staying hidden. He is full of paradoxes - ones that were designed to make him more interesting, but because of the way they are shown and the lack of explanation for them, they are also a sign of a weak script. Adam is not a strongly and convincingly written character, but I'll give the movie benefit of a doubt and I'll assume it was by design.

Because by making those characters so strange and making their life so odd, the film, while lacking a strong story and probably boring many to tears, has this aura of mystery around it. We don't know much abut Eve and Adam. We are not given explanations for their separate lives or answers to questions, such as what did Ava do 80 years ago in Paris? What is up with the gloves? How did they meet? When exactly did they meet? And that makes the movie fascinating.
What adds to movie's charm is a wonderful love story between Adam and Eve. These two vampires have known each other for centuries and they never stopped loving each other. Hiddleston and Swinton have wonderful chemistry and because of their talent they sell something that was not easy to sell - that these two radically different people love being next to each other, are interested in each other's stories and opinions and are bonded by true love and respect.

They are both so convincing not even the ridiculousness of script - why did Eve leave Adam on different continent if she knows his tendencies? Why would Adam even consider dying when Eve exists? - passable. You feel the love they have for each other in such sweet moments - Eve being impressed with Adam's brilliance when she sees the contraption he built to power the house and Adam letting Eve's sister stay even though he hates her, but he knows how much Eve cares for her.
The film really revolves around these two and paints a very unique portrait of the vampire - they don't harm people, they evolved past certain things - fear, jealousy, worrying. Adam is held back by his suicidal thoughts but nothing holds back Eve - she takes time to appreciate nature, she is grateful for being alive. Eve is one of most fascinating and likable vampires I've ever seen on film and Tilda Swinton's understanding and quirky way of playing her is the best thing about the movie.

The film adds, like most vampire films do, something new to the mythos - when vampires drink blood they are experiencing a sudden high that lasts several seconds. Then there is the gloves thing - it looks like they cannot remove their gloves without the permission of the owner of the house. We are never given a reason why, but given Eve's ability to tell the object's age with touch, perhaps every vampire has some sort of ability via touch.
The supporting characters doesn't really leave much impression - the doctor played by Jeffrey Wright could have been played by anyone, Anton Yelchin's Ian is cute and provides some humour (though film has already a lot of it with Adam's one liners and Eve's childlike and sweet exclamations of joy at the surrounding wildlife). John Hurt is good as Marlowe, but he isn't given much to do. Wasikowska however gets to play a different character - I've never seen her as wild and fun as she is in this movie.

Sadly, once her character leaves the frame the film's pace drops to alarmingly low rate and there is not enough to keep you as interested as you were in the beginning - the couple travels together and they see Marlowe one last time, but during those moments I thought that Jarmusch trapped his own movie by making it so minimalistic. Right into the cage of missed opportunities.

Still, I cannot remember the last time I saw a vampire movie with such interesting portrayal of vampires, good performances and wonderful atmosphere. It's greatly aided by just terrific soundtrack and amazing score by Jozef van Wissem and SQURL. The cinematography is gorgeous and even the shots of lifeless Detroit at night have curious beauty in them.

While I'm sure many people will hate this film because of its pace, if you like vampire movies or the lead actors you should definitely see this one. It's been years since I saw Swinton this adorably joyful.

(Only Lovers Left Alive, dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2014, 123 min)

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28 comments:

  1. I can't wait for this to be honest. I have sworn off all vampire flicks because they feel so...tiresome, but this looks remarkable and your review is, as always, excellent!

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    1. Thanks! Hope you'll like this one!

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  2. Really slow paced this one, a little too slow I think at times. But the mood of the whole thing is wonderful. It made me want to know more about these characters.

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    1. Same here, I wish it was a little more substantial in latter part.

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  3. I've heard mixed reviews on this film. Your review picks up on the same things. I like that you said that vampire films don't necessarily have to be garish with lots of explosions and action sequences. I personally prefer the atmospheric vampire films like 'The Hunger,' 'The Addiction,' or most recently 'Byzantium.' All of which have flaws. And some flaws are ok, especially if there are other factors, like the casting and chemistry. And of course Hiddles!

    My favorite vampire film is still 'Interview..." but then again, 'Interview w/ the Vampire' had great source material to pull from. Another one of my favorite vamp films was 'Let the Right One In." Again, lots of atmosphere.

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    1. Oh yeah, Interview with the Vampire is still my favorite vampire film, I wish other Rice novels would get the movie treatment and better one than Queen of the Damned received.

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    2. 'QOD' was dreadful. They really messed that movie up. It was perhaps one of the worst adaptions of a book I've ever seen. They need to reboot w/ 'The Vampire Lestat.' 'Interview' was so good, it doesn't need to be remade.

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    3. I'd love to see Vampire Lestat being adapted, I really don't know what's the hold up - the vampire genre has never been more popular and her novels are so well written.

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  4. Being a Jarmusch fan, I really want to see this just because I want to know how he will interpret the film. Plus, I love atmospheric vampire movies.

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    1. If you love atmospheric vampire flicks you won't be disappointed :)

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  5. Ooooh! So jealous you saw this already Sati!! I kind of expected the slower pace, I didn't mind it when I saw Broken Flowers as I'm a big fan of Bill Murray. As you know I LOVE Hiddles and also Swinton, so naturally I so want to see it despite its flaws. "Mysterious, charismatic, handsome" OH MY!! "...I cannot remember the last time I saw a vampire movie with such interesting portrayal of vampires" Oh and you sold me even more on this one!

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    1. It premieres in US next month, right? Oh this has slower pace than Broken Flowers...hope you like it anyways!

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  6. Ohhh I can't wait for this one. I don't really watch a lot of vampire movies, but this one I'll watch. It's Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston! Great review!

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    1. Thanks! They both great here, especially Swinton.

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  7. I think I was a tad more impressed by the movie but mostly because I kind of accepted all the things you pointed out without pondering about it. It's such a laid back vampire movie- I kind of loved that. Of course I adored Hiddles and Tilda and Mia too. I also loved all the references and the music and the look.
    Nice review :)

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    1. Thanks! The music was really something special here, I've been listening to the score a lot after seeing the film.

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  8. Great review! I can't wait until I get to see it. I need more Hiddles in my life.

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    1. Thank you! And it's shirtless Hiddles in this one :P

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  9. I would check this one out, but honestly it seems like it might up being a grind. I like Hiddleston a lot, but honestly have never really warmed to Swinton (she's talented and all, I think I'm just scared of her). Anyway, loved the review, beautiful as always, just not sure I'm ultimately going to fire this one up. I don't need every answer, but I'd like a few.

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    1. I have a feeling you wouldn't like that one :) Swinton can be scary but here she was the kind of person you'd want around in case of trouble ^^

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  10. Shirtless Hiddles... mmmm...

    I had some other thoughts, too, but I forgot about them now that I got that image. Ehh. Sounds interesting, even if it's not that great, so I'll watch this once I get the chance. I also think it's good to sometimes just FEEL instead of think, so I'm pretty excited. Lovely review, Sati!

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    1. Thank you, hope you'll like other things in the movie besides Tom :)

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  11. Glad to hear some good things! I'm so looking forward to this! :D

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  12. I like films with slow pace, the ones with a quick pace too, of course, but let's say I don't have a problem with that, so I knew I would like this one. I liked it a lot. I think you're right about some things with the script. That usually happens on Jarmusch's films it feels to me like he centers in some ideas and leaves the rest without much explaining. I don't like feels that give you all, and I'm keen to the minimalistic narrative, but you leave the cinema thinking that there was so much more about this story, these characters and you feel a little sad about that.

    With that being said, I loved this 'cause it felt like a melancholic poem about those vampires. I loved that idea of them feeling high with that blood, it reminded me a bit of The Addiction, another of my favorite vampire films, and nice you talked about The Hunger 'cause I also liked it a lot.

    Hiddleston, too bad his character doesn't have much development as you've said, but he was really funny, I loved the way he interacted with Ava. Masikowska as you've pointed was so joyful, I've never seen her like that either, she's great and really versatile, one of my young favorite actresses. And Tilda was amazing, as always. I loved too the couple they made, Hiddleston and Swinton, they were like perfect for each other. I remember when the production began Jarmusch wanted to cast Fassbender but he had to let it go I think for The Counselor, and it made me a little sad 'cause I also love Fassbender and I thought it was a shame he was letting go a Jarmusch film, but I was glad when Hiddleston replaced him.

    Great review, as always! And I also loved the soundtrack and the Detroit images.

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    1. I've never seen The Addiction, I'm gonna need to check this one out!

      Oh I did read Fassbender was supposed to be in it but honestly, him in white make up? He has horrible skin which is very noticeable in Counselor. The man looks like he was 20 years older, he is very handsome but he is not fit to play a vampire. He could be seductive, but he would like Bowie when he was drying out in Hunger :)

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    2. Hahaha. Talking about The Counselor, I saw him during the filming 'cause they shot some scenes in my city, Alicante. I jstumbled upon him and Natalie Dormer a few times at a Café / Gelato shop 'cause I was working across their hotel. He had some wrinkles around the eyes for sure, but he didn't look that bad. He was really pale and I think that covered better his wrinkles than the tanned look they put on him for the film. She was really pretty and they both were quite nice. They didn't felt the pressure from the media/people 'cause in Alicante everybody thought they were just some tourists. My co-workers and the people at the Café didn't know who they were, they were just expecting to see Bardem, Diaz, etc., but I guess those were staying out of town 'cause I never saw any of them.

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    3. You met Fassy? I'm even more jealous you met Natalie, she is so wonderful - If I ever met someone from Game of Thrones cast I think I'd spontaneously combust :)

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