Art-house Film of the Month : Only Lovers Left Alive – Un Certain Regard
So, who’s getting seriously tired of the films Twilight, the TV series The Vampire Diaries and all sorts of motion pictures that involve weird sanguinary long-teethed creatures that pretend they are better than humans on all counts ? Yes, I feel you. (Although I must admit, I was quite a big fan in my teens, as every self-respecting middle school pupil.) But what’s now ? Have vampire stories and films all lost their originality, to only become chick flicks and sentimental films that do find their audience, but somewhat get away from the first stories that defined the genre ?
Well, not exactly. If you are looking for the authentic and very first representations of vampire on screen, you can watch the German expressionist Nosferatu by F.W. Murnau, or Nosferatu the Vampyre by Werner Herzog. Later on, the adaptation from the Bram Stocker novel, Dracula (which is a must-read, by the way) by Francis F. Coppola, or The Fearless Vampire Killers by Roman Polanski also explored the genre. But it turns out that the 21st century is also, and still capable of producing good films around the theme of vampires, and that mainly through art-house cinema. The 2014 drama and romance Only Lovers Left Alive, by the director Jim Jarmusch, is a perfect example.
The two main actors, Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play a couple of disillusioned vampires in the cities of Detroit, United States and Tangier, Morocco; named Adam and Eve, just like in the Bible, they try to cope with the disillusion they are experiencing from the modern world and to which they are struggling to get accustomed to. They will experience a series of adventures, particularly when Eve’s younger sister Ava comes into town to visit them.
But Jarmusch’s vision of the vampire here is less that of an evil creature trying to spread terror than to use the image of the vampire as a satire of modern day society. Adam indeed lives shut off in his large Victorian house, and is very disappointed by the modern world and human beings, whit whom he cannot identify with. He is a very talented musician although he no longer wants to share his music, and hold on to art as an escape and something that could save him from the modern world. Art is therefore central in the film, and the latter gives a wonderful tribute to painting, literature and music through various references and characters. Adam rejects the human genre’s superficiality, as he has lived for many centuries and gradually grew tired of its inconsistency. He believe humans are no longer able to truly appreciate the real beautiful things in life, that is to say art.
The city of Detroit, where most of the action is set, is much more than a simple setting; it serves as an image, a reflective one to allow the viewer to wonder how and why it has become such a desolated place – and according to Adam, a desolated world by extension. And this is one of the films’ answer: capitalism. It is precisely this superficial, materialist society that has developed in the late 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, and that Adam despises. Detroit bears the role of the place eaten by capitalism, reflecting the vampire’s thoughts. It has evolved with society but did not get a “happy-ending”: with the city going bankrupt and everyone deserting, letting nature reassert itself, it is the perfect example of the evils of the modern world and the consequences that can result from it. Only Lovers Left Alive is a film that shows the decline of this peculiar city that is Detroit and how it is used as a metaphor to bring a satire of the modern world to the screen. However, it should not be seen as traditional in the sense of the ideas that are conveyed, because the film is more about a simple satire of capitalism and some evils of the society we know now than any form of conservatism whatsoever.
In short, Only Lovers Left Alive appears to be a good demonstration of the indie director’s talent, and is definitely part of the most interesting and creative vampire-related films that have been released these past years.