Only Lovers Left Alive

UK/Germany | 2013 | Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Logline: Two vampire lovers, living worlds apart, are reunited, but find themselves at the mercy of their lifestyle.

A new Jarmusch movie is a welcomed event at Cult Projections, as he is one of my very favourite directors. That doesn’t mean I adore every movie he’s made, but I relish and savour his approach to filmmaking; the atmosphere, tone, mise-en-scene are all entwined in a deliciously moody, dreamy package. He is a true auteur, if such a thing still exists in this high-concept indie ocean of cynicism and automation.

Would Jarmusch been the king of mumblecore had he begun his career in the last ten years?

Tilda Swinton plays Eve, supposedly a 2000-year-old vampire (according to Jarmusch’s first draft), living the quiet life in Morocco. She is kept out of trouble by the purloining of pure blood from one Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), the playwright who Shakespeare stole the limelight from. Marlowe and Eve are dear old friends indeed. 

Meanwhile in downtrodden Detroit Eve’s lover Adam, several centuries young, is wallowing in depression. He is a talented musician holed-up in a decrepit old house in a deserted neighbourhood, pining for days gone, disgruntled over the current state of humanity, or “zombies” as he refers to mortals.

After a phone conversation Eve leaves Tangier for Detroit to make sure Adam doesn’t follow through with his suicidal project. Not long after they are disturbed by the arrival of Eve’s obnoxious younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), also a vampire, and trouble erupts. With zombie groupies lapping at Adam’s door, it’s time to scoot.

Jarmusch has fashioned a romance in his typically droll style, with pitch perfect performances. It’s the horror movie when you’re not wanting a horror, the love story that lingers, the drama masquerading as a deadpan comedy, the metaphor for life’s bittersweet ironies. It’s probably his best movie since Dead Man (1995), certainly one of my five Jarmusch favourites, and easily the most original vampire movie since Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995).

Curiously Jarmusch was asked to include more action set pieces by his European financiers (the project took many years to fund), and in response he removed the few existing ones. To add to his frustration Jarmusch was forced to shoot with digital cameras, but managed to get a filmic look through the insistence of low lighting. He’s a dying, but oh so admirable breed Mr. Jarmsuch; a purist, through and through.

Only Lovers Left Alive is very much an acquired taste. And that’s exactly how I like it. Fingers crossed Jim Jarmusch continues to find the independent funding to enable him to continue to make movies on his terms.