Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
TIFF 2013 – film #3
Reason for pick: director Jim Jarmusch, Tilda Swinton, my wife’s love of all things Vampire.
It was a rainy day. Literally. Standing in line at the Bloor Cinema with the clouds wide open was really starting to affect my normally bright and cheery mood. Granted, this was a Jim Jarmusch film, but I really only know him by reputation, as I’d only seen Down by Law, and Broken Flowers. There was the Tilda Swinton factor. Love her. I couldn’t think of a bad film she was in until our friend Len reminded me of I Am Love. Hated that one. The real reason I’m here, standing in the rain, is my wife’s love of Vampire films. I don’t really feel that love.
For some, inexplicable to me, reason, the public seems to have an insatiable appetite for all things un-dead. As a result, the genre has been done to death ( or is it un-death ). Even Neil Jordan’s Byzantium, which was our last year’s TIFF vampire film, wasn’t exactly a re-invention. I couldn’t imagine anything under the moon that hasn’t already been done and said here. Wow, was I wrong.
Right from the get-go I was captivated. Jarmusch’s spinning descent into the lairs and lives of Adam and Eve evoked goosebumps. That’s never happened before. While Goth is nothing new with this set, the nouveau steampunk ( I’m sure there’s a correct ***punk definition, but I’m so out of date ) decor of Adams abode, contrasted with the Tangierian trappings of Eve’s, deliciously reflected (without a mirror) our protagonists timelessness and weary existence.
While this was the bait, what really hooked me was Eve’s first evening stroll through the Moroccan streets on her grocery run. What grace in motion, transcendental elegance, and confidence; qualities that can only be gained through centuries of experience without the burden of age. Even with her khimar, Swinton relates everything about Eve with just the flashes of her eyes. The darting telegraphing not fear, anxiety, or paranoia, but simply awareness and watchfulness. All without a word.
A continent away, Tom Hiddleston’s Adam sits alone in the desolate shell of a house in a long abandoned neighbourhood of Detroit. Once great, now in ruins, it is the expression of Adam’s soul. He lives now only for his music which he jealously guards. Yet, he lets some of it seep out into the land of Zombies .. those folks who are not ‘others’. This is to ‘put it out there’, to hear the reflections. The Zombies consume these melancholy strains with a voracious appetite, perhaps because it reflects their own sadness with their degenerating state.
Everything about Only Lovers Left Alive is steeped in an atmosphere of knowing, and it’s attendant sadness, reflection, and with the case of Eve, some hopefulness. That is, until it isn’t. Jarmusch’s master stroke is the comedic interjection of real life, everyday, problems our couple has to deal with. Everything from booking airline travel, to dealing with in-laws. Rather than jarring, these interjections are positively refreshing, and provide a perfect counterbalance to keep the film from getting too morose. The humor isn’t dark, it’s actually quite plain, which makes it all the funnier. What’s amazing is that it doesn’t detract from our feelings for the characters in the slightest. If anything, it makes Adam and Eve relatable rather than pitiable. Literary, musical, and scientific references abound which provide additional smiles without coming off as self-satisfied.
John Hurt, as Adam and Eve’s long long long time friend Marlowe, Mia Wasikolska as Ava, Eve’s sister, and Anton Yelchin as Adam’s Zombie contact with the outside world deserve praise as well. Each perfect for their roles; secondary characters expertly and lovingly crafted by Jarmusch.
I haven’t been turned, but I wouldn’t mind spending another night or two chillin’ with Adam and Eve.
I loved this film.