Saturday, 1 March 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive: Review


Only Lovers Left Alive. Source: IMDB
4/5

I saw Only Lovers Left Alive a week ago so I’m coming to this a little late, but it’s still out in UK cinemas and I highly recommend it. This film pulls off the difficult trick of combining the sensuality, decadence and angst of the vampire condition with a wickedly funny sense of humour.

OLLA centres on two vampires, Adam and Eve, played respectively by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. Both of them very much look the part; it seems likely Swinton keeps a ravaged and ancient self-portrait in an attic somewhere.  John Hurt also appears, giving a great performance as a vampire who is physically aged and weakened, but mentally as sharp as ever.

Adam is well over one hundred years old, but it appears that he was most comfortable in the rock-and-roll era, somewhere between 1950 and 1970. As the film opens, he lives in a dilapidated house in an otherwise deserted neighbourhood of Detroit, surrounded by musical instruments and analogue recording and mixing equipment. He is a very talented musician, but never performs in public; instead, he records his music for himself.

Adam is consumed by ennui, disgusted by the state of the modern world and particularly by modern music. It is no coincidence that he is in Detroit, once the home of Motown, later of Eminem and Jack White (the latter being mentioned by name).  Now it is a city in severe decline, with a population less than half what it was in 1950. Adam spends a great deal of time wandering aimlessly through the empty streets, into grand and decaying abandoned buildings. He has found a place which suits his mood perfectly.

Eve is older -- we don’t know exactly how much, but she has been around at least since the Middle Ages. While Adam’s great obsession is music, hers is literature. She lives in Tangier, Morocco, which has faded grandeur of a very different kind from Detroit. Her house is filled to bursting with books in many languages.

This is one of the few films which addresses unlife from the vampire’s perspective. What exactly does one do with eternal life? Vampires’ powers, appetites, and intolerance for daylight separate them from ordinary humans, who may be allies or even friends but can never truly understand them.

OLLA is to a large extent about the vampires’ attempts to find meaning in their endless existence. It is deliberately slow-paced; the best way to watch it is to relax, be patient, and settle into the vampiric mindset. One of its best features is that it does not feel the need to explain every detail. We are not told why vampires like to wear gloves; why Adam and Eve chose to live on separate continents; or what exactly happens to Eve’s sister; but we can make some very well-informed guesses.

All this sounds serious, but OLLA has some moments of extraordinary humour, especially when vampires interact with mortals who don’t understand their condition -- or who are beginning to understand much more than they would like. This film is magnificent fun.

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