I’m not quite as savvy with director Jim Jarmusch’s work as I’d like to be, having only really seen Down by Law, but been kind of mesmerized by his work from a distance. Heading into vampire territory, however, was both a move I could not have expected him to make and one that makes complete sense.
Only Lovers Left Alive follows Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as vampires Eve and Adam, respectively, who are now in the indie music scene. Things go awry when Eve’s sister Ava, played by Mia Wasikowska, enters the scene. That’s about all we know for certain about the film, as Jarmusch has been keeping it mostly in the shadows.
Or perhaps there’s not enough plot to pull into the light. It wouldn’t be surprising, since Jarmusch’s plots often only exist as impetus for humor and character dynamics. The general response has been pretty positive while acknowledging the film’s slightness. Leslie Felperin of Variety felt the film was at its best when it tried to make things happen, though didn’t quite succeed.
Foreboding dreams about her sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) send Eve on a night flight to Detroit to be with her beloved. When Ava duly blows into town from Los Angeles, Adam and Eve grit their fangs and bear it, even though they have to hide their blood stash from this selfish, feckless houseguest and can’t leave her alone with their human friends. “Only Lovers Left Alive” works best in this section, when it’s essentially a light comedy of social mores set among a bunch of bohemians whose drug of choice just happens to be human blood, rather than cocaine or heroin. The attempt to introduce a more tragic dimension in the final act falls flat, however; by this point, the film has run out of juice, not unlike its wan, exhausted protagonists.
Jordan Hoffman of Film.com is all over Jarmusch’s film, feeling the uses of style truly enhance the film substance.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” is an exhibit A example of how to use style to enhance substance, not overwhelm it. I was lucky enough to see this at the Cannes Film Festival, and could not help but compare it with another “Only” film debuting here, Nicolas Winding Refn’s lazy and trite (though beautiful) “Only God Forgives.” The distinction between an artist like Jarmusch and an all-sizzle-no-steak slave to style film like Refn is clear. Whereas “God” is posturing, “Lovers” is, by the time you get to its conclusion, a deeply affecting tale about the addiction to bad love and its consequences.
Eric Kohn of Indiewire found the film to be a great finish to the festival, citing a story of deep longing that proves to be rather touching.
The lackadaisical nature of Adam and Eve’s world — their lack of urgency in spite of feeling frustrated with the immortal lives imposed on them — has turned them into brooding loners more inclined to talk than act. “This self-obsession is a waste of living,” one of them sighs after a lengthy period of introspection. Removed from the supernatural context, Jarmusch’s latest protagonists in this undeniably light, witty sketch of a movie fall in line with the bored, retro cool outsiders found throughout his oeuvre. It’s refreshing to see that, in Jarmusch’s world, even the undead have a lust for life and the capacity to complain about it with soul.
Except Only Lovers Left Alive is not the last film of the festival. Technically that would be closing night film Zulu, but for the purposes of the competition, it’s Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur. Reaction to the film has been pretty quiet, which isn’t to say that it’s been downright negative. It’s just that Polanski’s film hasn’t swept people off their feet either. While Robbie Collins of The Telegraph notes it’s lacking in comparison to other competition films, it is superior to Polanski’s own film Carnage.
Ives’ play was first staged only three years ago, but the film’s sexual politics already feel dated compared to its bolder rivals in the competition strand: it has none of the footloose euphoria of Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour, or the teasing transgressions of François Ozon’s Young & Beautiful. Better, perhaps, to consider it in the context of Polanski’s own recent work; particularly his adaptation of the Yasmina Reza play God of Carnage, which this film readily outmanouevres.
Scott Foundas of Variety also find the film less than arousing, but praises its unorthodox casting decisions.
As the two Vandas, Seigner faces the challenge of playing an actress playing a character who may herself be a spurned goddess in disguise, and she moves nimbly through the myriad layers of artifice, sometimes fully “in” her 19th-century alter ego, sometimes outside it, commenting on Sacher-Masoch’s text through the contemporary Vanda’s postmodern, feminist gaze. Amalric has less distance to travel from Thomas to Severin and back again — both of them self-absorbed writers getting a kind of comeuppance —but he makes the part fully his own, more shambling and neurotic than the slick egotist Wes Bentley (replaced by Hugh Dancy for the Broadway transfer) essayed in the original production. Though Polanski’s decision to cast considerably older performers in both roles initially seems counterintuitive, it ultimately adds one more layer to Ives’ dense mesh of reality and fiction.
Actress Emmanuelle Seigner seems to be the name on everyone’s tongues, as Jessica Kiang of The Playlist hints that her performance may be the ace of the group.
Seigner is terrifically good and deserves all the great notices coming her way. And there’s definitely wit and verbal dexterity on display, and a fun kind of dismantling/rebuilding of our preconceptions throughout. But beneath a brittle veneer of verbal dash and cleverness this stagebound adaptation has little insight to give us into anything except the sexual hubris of an aging man, and frankly, we’re not sure we give a damn.
So that puts a clean wrap on the competition! Tonight in Cannes (which will be around 2 pm EST here) will be the unveiling of this year’s winners, including the film receiving the Palme d’Or. My bets are still as locked as they were three days back, but I’d say The Immigrant could be a late entry force to be reckoned with. My Palme odds for Only Lovers Left Alive and Venus in Fur are, respectively, 7/10 and 5.6/10. In other words, don’t expect either to make much of a dent.
PREVIOUS CANNES ROUND-UPS:
Heli (Dir. Amat Escalante)
Young & Beautiful (Dir. Francois Ozon)
The Bling Ring (Dir. Sofia Coppola)
The Congress (Dir. Ari Folman)
The Past (Dir. Asghar Farhadi)
Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian (Dir. Arnaud Desplechin)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
Like Father, Like Son (Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)
The Selfish Giant (Dir. Clio Bernard)
Blue Ruin (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
Grand Central (Dir. Rebecca Zlotowski)
Shield of Straw (Dir. Takashi Miike)
Borgman(Dir. Alex van Warmerdam)
The Great Beauty (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
A Castle in Italy (Dir. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi)
Only God Forgives (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
All is Lost (Dir. J.C. Chandor)
Bastards (Dir. Claire Denis)
Grigris (Dir. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun)Blue is the Warmest Color (Dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)
Nebraska (Dir. Alexander Payne)
The Immigrant (Dir. James Gray)
Michael Kohlhaas (Dir. Arnaud des Pallieres)