Once in a while a film comes along and disappoints you so much you forget what ever made it appeal to you in the first place. The last time this happened to me was when I saw INLAND EMPIRE back in 2006. I was desperate to see it and couldn’t find anyone to go with me so walked on my own for over an hour to the nearest cinema showing it and watched the whole three hour spectacle unravel on my own. Actually was it six hours? It felt like it. And so it was with the latest Jarmusch film. I’m just sorry I forced the experience on my equally underwhelmed fiancé.
The film sets its pace deliberately slowly. Opening with a spiralling bird’s eye camera shot of our two main characters – played by Tom Hiddlestone (Thor, War Horse) and Tilda Swinton (The Beach, We Need To Talk About Kevin) – it matches the evocation of the interspersed antique record player. It’s intelligent camera work. We’re definitely spinning at the lower end of the 33 rpm spectrum, but it sets the scene pretty well with the slow and dirty rock music that accompanies it.
The story goes something like this. Our central characters (named Adam and Eve) are both vampires, they need blood to stay alive and source it from a sort of underground illegal blood trading market. Oh and Adam is also a reclusive rock star. And Eve has the power to touch things and say how old they are (I think this was sourced from the Superuseless Superpower blog, but I can’t be sure).
John Hurt (The Elephant Man, Alien) plays a very old vampire who it turns out is actually most of the greatest writers in the history of humanity. Chekov from Star Trek is Adam’s roady. Felix from Casino Royale makes an appearance. Later in the film, Eve’s younger sister arrives on the scene but it’s ambiguous as to exactly how old she is. I mean, there were long periods of the film where there was no dialogue and as I was drifting in and out of consciousness, and I got to wondering how old she really was. If Adam and Eve are about 600 years old and look like they’re about 40, she looks like she’s about 20 so must be about 300, but yet she acts like she’s about 14. So, do vampires mature at an extremely slow rate too? I don’t get it.
Anyway it rambles along for about two hours before getting to the point where something happens and they go abroad and have to look for new sources of blood. As my fiancé pointed out, it’s the sort of thing that would usually take about 20 minutes to develop in most films. It’s deliberately paced excruciatingly slowly and sometimes it works, but mainly it falls short.
It’s admirable that Jarmusch is bold enough to stick to his guns and allow conversation to take centre stage as he did so well with Coffee and Cigarettes, but this isn’t a film about having a conversation whilst smoking and drinking coffee. It’s a story about a rock star vampire, his wife who has a super power, a man who is secretly almost every important writer ever, Chekov from Star Trek and a seedy underground market for blood. Isn’t this a recipe for a really quite exciting film?
No. Apparently it isn’t.
Only Lovers Left Alive is out in UK cinemas on 21st February 2014.