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Only Lovers Left Alive | Review

Eternity and a Day: Jim Jarmusch’s Vampire Flick Is Typically Jarmuschian

Only Lovers Left AliveAfter his droll yet audience-friendly quirkfest Broken Flowers took home the Grand Prix at Cannes ’05 hit, Jim Jarmusch returns to the Croisette (after his sharply divisive The Limits of Control eluded the festival circuit) with another quintessentially Jarmuschian affair – this time about vampires. Typically shapeless, loquacious, and deeply concerned with artifacts of yester-generations’ hip kids (viz., wicked guitars and an eclectic record collection), this notably un-horrific take on the genre comes on the heels of Amy Heckerling’s under-appreciated comedy Vamps to form a unique diptych of films more concerned with certain basic ideas of immortality than in generating jump scares.

Featuring a pair of rather sophisticated undead named Adam and Eve (Tim Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton), the Detroit-set Only Lovers Left Alive is propelled, ever so deliberately, by the two leads’ recollections and souvenirs, their personal tastes serving as a synecdoche for the evolution of culture across centuries. Opening with a bravura, spinning overhead shot of an album playing on a turntable that fades into a shot of Eve lethargically splayed across her bed listening to it, there’s a palpable evocation of nostalgia dripping from the first frames that is only undercut by the sight of the cult actress decked out in goth attire, her hair bleached to match her skin tone.

More listening sessions follow, but what about the problem of…”feeding”? That’s all taken care of in a deal that Adam has with a doctor friend (Jeffrey Wright) who sneaks him some blood in the after hours of a hospital. The occasional human bleeds and causes our heroes to salivate, but this is all-in-all a rather Pacifist affair, too concerned, e.g., with the rhythms of night time Detroit to get concerned over gorier matters. (Only Lovers Left Alive plays like the spiritual cousin to Down by Law, Jarmusch’s paean to New Orleans.) Surveying the barren, tungsten-drenched urbanscape in a vintage Jaguar (naturally), Adam and Eve take in all that they used to love and cherish, no doubt spurned by the unforgiving capitalist system – far more bloodthirsty than any person or thing in this film – that has driven the actual city into bankruptcy.

A semblance of a plot eventually arrives in the form of Eve’s sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), whose immature behavior drives her sister and Adam away from the States to take asylum in Tangier. It’s here that a fatalist somberness drapes over the two lovers (who, it should be noted, may well be intended to be the original, biblical Man and Woman, alive all these millennia later thanks to their affliction; after all, a character named Marlowe (John Hurt) boasts that he wrote Shakespeare’s plays, suggesting that he may be the playwright himself.) They are unable to find a blood supplier. Before wandering off into a void of cosmological introspection, gazing at the stars, contemplating mathematics and whether to eat a young couple embracing each other in the star light.

But ambiguous plot turns aren’t the point. Just earlier, Adam and Eve happened upon a live performance (shown in its entirety) by Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan. Blown away by her music, they’re left under the spell of having just witnessed ‘the next big thing.’ For all of Jarmusch’s so-called hipster reminiscences, he’s hardly cynical; buried in his worldview, the best may always still be yet to come.

Reviewed on May 26th at the Cannes Film Festival – Main Competition
122 Mins.

Blake Williams is an avant-garde filmmaker born in Houston, currently living and working in Toronto. He recently entered the PhD program at University of Toronto's Cinema Studies Institute, and has screened his video work at TIFF (2011 & '12), Tribeca (2013), Images Festival (2012), Jihlava (2012), and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Blake has contributed to's coverage for film festivals such as Cannes, TIFF, and Hot Docs. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Coen Bros. (Fargo), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Code Unknown), Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), Kar-wai (Happy Together), Kiarostami (Where is the Friend's Home?), Lynch (INLAND EMPIRE), Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Van Sant (Last Days), Von Trier (The Idiots)

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