Cannes 2013: Only Lovers Left Alive Review

Only Lovers Left Alive Vampires used to be cool, but not so popular. Now vampires are incredibly popular, but not so cool (unless you're a pre-pubescent girl). What then could indie filmmaking legend Jim Jarmusch, renowned for his oddball style comedies full of dry wit and travelogue-style misadventures, add to this genre in its contemporary state? Well, somewhat surprisingly, the genre seems to have more of a tug on him than he on the genre. Now don't get me wrong, this is unquestionably a Jarmusch flick, and the film is nowhere close to your prototypical Vampire flick (whether that be the pure horror variety or the teenage melodrama kind), but the film borrows heavily from the emotion tones of the post-modern vampire. Particularly, the film loves to languish in brooding state of despair. The only difference being that, instead of a pale Robert Pattison pouting over his emotions for Kristin Stewart, we get a pale Tom Hiddleston pouting over the human race's (who he refers to derogatorily as zombies) inability to properly honor its heroes and live up to its true potential. Only Lovers Left Alive The film's plot revolves around Adam and Eve (an obvious referential joke, of which this film is chockfull of), a married vampire couple who have lived on the earth for centuries. At the start of the film, the undead partners are living on the opposite ends of the planet. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is hulled up in an old house in some dilapidated section of Detroit, surrounded by outdated instruments and gadgets of years past (the man definitely has luddite leanings), moping around as he pines over humanity's rote vapidity. Meanwhile, Eve (Tilda Swinton), a bit more fun loving (as vampires go) lives in Tangier, Morocco, enjoying the local Mid-Eastern flavor. After receiving a phone call from a clearly depressed and possibly suicidal Adam (if your wondering how a vampire commits suicide: wooden bullet), Eve agrees to fly to Detroit to try to cheer him up. This first act of the film drags on fairly slowly, and while Jarmusch's trademark humor lightens things up from time to time (there are a lot, and I mean a lot, of jokes to do with the fact the two protagonists have been alive for hundreds of years and have seen many a historical event), it's not enough to carry the film. Luckily though, the movie receives of jolt with the introduction of Mia Wasikowska. Wasikowska plays Eve's younger sister, Ava, a rambunctious and precocious young (relatively speaking) sprite, who ruins Adam's melancholy vibes. Both Adam and Eve are reluctant to receive their unexpected guest, but apparently family means something for vampires too, so against their better judgment, they take Ava in. It isn't long though before Ava lives up to her troublemaking reputation and puts Adam and Eve in a bit of a bind. Only Lovers Left Alive Edited 1 This brief episode with Ava, played brilliantly by Wasikowska, is easily the best part of the film, because it's the most energetic. The rest of the time, the film is mostly comprised of Adam and Eve laying about wining and bitching over the current state of the "zombies" and their culture. It's not that some of this criticism isn't valid, but listening to a bunch of vampire intellectual "elitists", as Wasikowska's Ava refers to them, isn't the most cinematic endeavor, even in the hands of someone as talented as Jarmusch. Interestingly, in the Q and A afterwards, Jarmusch admits that the idea of for the film came from the desire to comment on the macro-level history of humanity, and in order to do that, he needed characters who had lived for ages and ages: thus vampires. This though becomes the biggest artistic issue for the film, because the motivations behind the characters being vampires becomes abundantly clear early on. Jarmusch wants to critique humanity, and why some of the observations are well observed, the insincere device of setting the movie in the vampire genre makes it hard to embrace Only Lovers Left Alive as much as you would want to otherwise. A lot of the elements of the best Jarmusch movies are present in Only Lovers Left Alive. Dry twee humor, interesting camera work, and strong locations (although the fact that the cities can only been shown at night, because the characters are vampires, doesn't make the cities as memorably as previously featured cities in Jarmusch movies) are all accounted for, and these aspects are enough to make Only Lovers Left Alive a decent film. The nagging feeling though the Jarmusch is abusing the vampire genre to go off on the things in humanity that bother him squarely place the film in the back half of Mr. Jarmusch's oeuvre. Only Lovers Left Alive Poster
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Matt Holmes is the co-founder of What Culture, formerly known as Obsessed With Film. He has been blogging about pop culture and entertainment since 2006 and has written over 10,000 articles.