Only Lovers Left Alive (UK-Germany-France-Cyprus-USA, 2013)

Staying alive

Staying alive

This film has that rare beast: a good trailer. I’m not a Jim Jarmusch fan, though I admire anyone with an independent sensibility, so I may not have gone if they trailer hadn’t looked as good. And it was the look that mattered, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston give off a wonderful other-worldly ambience which, as vampires, they should. Although it is a vampire movie, it only draws on the basic tropes of the genre and Jarmusch meditates upon modernity.

Although ‘things ain’t what they used to be’ is the motto of a fogey, at a time when politicians squabble over taking credit for an energy company’s freezing of prices, it might be the only one that makes sense. In the UK, PM Cameron, and his opposite number Miliband, seemed not to notice that the energy company was not sacrificing profits in the freeze, but jobs and wind farms. Hiddleston’s Adam moans about zombies (humans) and he’s right to do so. There is an ‘end game’ to life at the beginning of the 21st century as climate change-induced calamities start to pile up with no sign that there’s a will, in politicians or the public, to seriously address the issue. There’s a fin de siecle feel to the film’s narrative too: even blood isn’t what it used to be.

Adam, a drone musician, with a dash of Krautrock, is holed up in decaying Detroit; a post-industrial landscape that epitomises decay and decadence. There can be fewer real surreal sights as the Michigan theatre that’s now a car park. His lover, Swinton’s Eve, lives in the far more vibrant Tangiers, getting her hits from supplier Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). And this is the weakest aspect of the film; the canard that Marlowe wrote Shakespeare’s plays is repeated as fact and this, along with the name dropping of characters from history (Byron, Mary Wolstencroft et al), alters the tone of the film, suggesting that we aren’t meant to be taking it seriously. Except, it’s clear we are.

Mia Wasikowska does a terrific turn as the errant sister, suggesting that her talent will take her far. But the star of the film is production designer Marco Bittner Rosser, Bina Daigeler’s costumes and Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography.

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