Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive (dir by Jim Jarmusch)


Is it possible that the iconic American independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch is a fan of the late and beloved French film director Jean Rollin?

I ask this question because Jarmusch’s latest film, Only Lovers Left Alive, is one of the most Rollinesque films to have ever been made by a director other than Jean Rollin.

The most obvious similarity between Jarmusch’s film and much of Rollin’s work is that they both deal with vampires.  Rollin was the visual poet of vampire cinema and, if nothing else, Only Lovers Left Alive is a very poetic film.  The film tells the story of three vampires — ennui-stricken Adam (Tom Hiddleston), Adam’s wife Eve (Tilda Swinton), and Eve’s hedonist sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), all of whom would be perfectly at home in any of Rollin’s vampire films.

But, to be honest, the horror genre has reached the point where ennui-stricken and decadent vampires are hardly unique. What distinguished both Only Lovers Left Alive and the best films of Jean Rollin is the way that they both use and defy the conventions of the vampire genre to explore issues of sexuality, religion, politics, and artistic expression.  Much like Rollin, Jarmusch understands what the audience expects from a vampire film and he makes his larger points by manipulating, defying, and occasionally even confirming those expectations.

In other words, Only Lovers Left Alive is no Twilight and we’re all better off for it.

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There are other similarities between Only Lovers Left Alive and the best films of Jean Rollin.  Much like Rollin, Jarmusch tells his story through a collection of sensual and increasingly dream-like images.  Even Rollin’s trademark lingering shots of empty beaches and ancient castles are duplicated, in Only Lovers Left Alive, with haunting shots of the empty streets in Detroit and Tangiers.  When, towards the end of the film, two hungry vampires find themselves searching for blood in an ancient city, it was impossible for me not to think of a similar scene in Jean Rollin’s Two Orphan Vampires.

Now, I’m sure that some of you are probably saying, “That’s great, Lisa, but can you just tell me whether the film is worth watching or not?”

To answer your question, it is.  It’s not a flawless film.  There’s a few comedic scenes involving a doctor played by Jeffrey Wright that aren’t quite as entertaining as they could be.  And while it’s an interesting idea to have Christopher Marlowe show up as a vampire, John Hurt’s performance did not quite work for me.  But, whenever the film concentrates on the chemistry between Hiddleston, Swinton, Wasikowska, and Anton Yelchin (who plays a hilariously naïve human), it works brilliantly.

So yes, definitely — see Only Lovers Left Alive.

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See it for the scenes in which Adam and Eva drive through the ruins of Detroit, looking for Jack White’s house (“Oh!  I love Jack White!” Eve exclaims) and discussing Adam’s belief that the “zombies” (his term for the rest of us) are on the verge of destroying themselves.  Adam serves as the film’s philosophical and political mouthpiece and often times, his dialogue runs the risk of being a bit too on-the-nose perfect but Tom Hiddleston is such a charismatic performer that it doesn’t matter.  Wisely, Hiddleston delivers his most portentous lines with just a hint of self-mockery, as if to let us know that even Adam knows he’s being overdramatic.

See it for the amazing sequence in which Adam plays music in Detroit while Eve dances to it in Tangiers.  If Katharine Hepburn had been turned into a vampire, she would have been a lot like Tilda Swinton’s Eve.

See the film for Mia Wasikowska’s hilarious turn as a petulant and immature brat who just happens to be vampire.  The scenes in which she goes out of her way to annoy the dour Adam left me convinced that, if I ever become a vampire, I’ll probably be a lot like Ava.

See it because the White Hills appear as themselves, playing in a club and absolutely killing it.

See it because it’s one of the few vampire films to strike a perfect balance between humor and drama.

Most of all, see it because it’s a good and unique movie and, so far this year, we’ve had a bit of a shortage where those are concerned.

As for me, if I ever meet Jim Jarmusch, I’m going to ask him for the title of his favorite Jean Rollin film.

If nothing else, it should be an interesting conversation.

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8 responses to “Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive (dir by Jim Jarmusch)

  1. Definite high praise coming from you consider how you feel about Jean Rollin and his films. It looks like I really need to get downtown and see this before the summer fare floods the screen in the next couple weeks.

    Like

  2. I really wanted to see this one but unfortunately it only showed for a week near me and I missed it. Need to look out for it on rental. This definitely sounds like something I would like and after your review I can’t wait to see it!

    Like

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