It is always so interesting to see an auteur take on subject matter generally considered the stuff of genre cinema. Stanley Kubrick pretty much made a career out of it, whilst Jim Jarmusch has shown he is not afraid to do it previously with films like Dead Man (1995). It is in that context that Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) hit last year, to some pretty universal critical love (I saw it pop up very high on a number of top 10s).
As you would expect given the director involved, this is a pretty unique take on the vampire film. It functions as an interesting reinterpretation of the vampire mythos, filtered through love story. The focus is on two vampires, Eve played by Tilda Swinton and Adam played by Tom Hiddleston. They live in Tangier and Detroit respectively, but maintain a grand love between the two of them, content to live apart so that they can explore their individual passions. These passions are initially set up a little too simply, one likes music the other books. But over time they inform and seep into their characterisation making it a much more satisfying aspect to their construction. From this base Jarmusch builds his narrative, weaving the two separate strands closer together. There are fleeting appearances by other characters, Mia Wasikowska as Eve’s sister, Jeffrey Wright as a good source of hospital blood and John Hurt as Christopher Marlowe (yes that Marlowe), though this is really all about Swinton and Hiddleston. All three of those supporting performances are unsurprisingly excellent, though with minimal to do, as the development of the supporting characters did not seem to be much of a focus of the film.
I mentioned Dead Man earlier and just as in that film, music is a major focus and accompaniment to the narrative of Only Lovers Left Alive. Adam is obsessed with music, his living space cluttered with vinyl, guitars and antique high level stereo equipment. His obsession gives an insight and genuineness to the character. This is a passion of course which has been developed and honed over centuries of living. The choice of tunes, a lot of fuzzed out style rock, shredding guitars over an almost abandoned Detroit and plenty more, is intensely creative as is its matching with the images on screen. It is hard to overstate how good the use of soundtrack is in the film. And it seems to align perfectly with Jarmusch’s manner of shooting, which situates the characters in really interesting places in the frame.
Verdict: For me, the film had some definite weaknesses in terms of narrative and minor character development. But the supreme use of music and soundtrack single-handedly makes this a film that deserves to be watched and re-watched. Pint of Kilkenny