Saturday, November 16, 2013

LEFF: "Only Lovers Left Alive", one thousand years of existencial crisis

I'm not a superstitious Victorian but, in these days, vampires are all around the place. From massive book and movie franchises, Twilight put them out there. It sucked the gloom out of the heirs of Count Dracula and Nosferatu, turning them into teenage sparkling fantasies, while shamelessly disregarding any consideration for the culturally and socially cemented vampire mythology. But the important thing is: they are being seriously revised. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, however stupid it may sound, plays with the historical figure of the American President; the incredible Swedish Let the Right One In tells a sinister love story between vampire children.

And how would Jim Jarmush do it? Well, by simply fang-biting a Jim Jarmush story and turning it.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a languid, ironic, existentialist, dark romance about two lovers who have been in love for centuries. Adam (Tom Hiddlestone), in black, is a suicidal romantic musician, cynical about the current times, still mourning over the death of his heroes (Galileu, Newton, great scientists mostly), depressing over technology and a decaying, valueless society, revolted about the way his musical career turned out (he never put anything out there, though he's the real composer of some of the greatest Schubert pieces, and the others). Eva (Tilda Swinton), in white, is a wise, restrained but grateful, tolerant, kind, dance-loving "person", still bewildered by book passages she's been reading for hundreds of years (when she travels, she literally takes the best books ever written, which obviously includes David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest). Two unforgettable performances (is it that everything Tilda touches turns into gold?) fairly sidekicked by John Hurt (I always bow down to this guy), Mia Wasikowska (feels so real that she was bit around the sixties and currently lives in L.A.) and Anton Yelchin.

The couple is melancholically cool ("That is so 15th century."). The places are metaphors for contemporary America and a convicted world. Seductive roamers, car night-drifters, they cross back and forth through the bankrupt, collapsed city of Detroit (where operas were once sang in beautiful theaters, where the greatest American cars were once made) and get stuck in Tanger, Morocco.

References and self-consciousness are just enough, shedding the film in an amusing, playful aura (Marlowe wrote everything Shakespeare took credit for, and still hates the "philistine" for it; Eve's sister draconian qualities turn out to be mere pesky teenage irresponsibility; humans are called "zombies"; it abandons the elegant stylistic virtues of the first five minutes to focus entirely on the characters).

This is mythological: they have fangs, they're bloodsuckers, they can turn people or suck them to death, they can't live during the day, they're immortal but can die if stabbed with a wooden spike or shot with a wooden bullet, and so on. But this is also the most human, naturalistic vampire story imaginable - say, they don't sleep in coffins because things can be much more comfortable and... normal. They struggle to stay hidden, because the media would destroy them. They struggle to stay fed because society would catch them (you can't throw bodies in the Thames like in the 1600's).

But, most of all, though they've been everywhere and witnessed everything, though they're the most cult and bright people in the world, they struggle to find a meaning of life. And just like in a Woody Allen film, only love keeps them alive.

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