At the midpoint of the Cannes Film Festival 2013, an exciting range of films – both big and small – have already been screened. The festival opened with Baz Luhrmann’s new adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and other works shown so far include Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring and Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station.
In competition for the Palme d’Or is Jim Jarmusch’s vampire drama Only Lovers Left Alive, a modern vampire romance that sets out to examine the nature of humanity through the eyes of people who lived for centuries, which marks the director’s first film release since 2009’s uneventful The Limits of Control.
Jarmusch’s film was a late addition to the Cannes 2013 selection, but an official pressbook has now been released that is full of stills, plot details, and character descriptions. In particular, it contains a detailed synopsis and a director’s statement from Jarmusch, in which he describes his intent and influences when making the film.
The story centers around a small group of vampires. Tom Hiddleston plays Adam, an underground musician with “a moody and brooding, Hamlet-like disposition” who grows deeply depressed by the direction which the modern world is heading and subsequently seeks out his lover, Eve (Tilda Swinton), “the irreplaceable yin to Adam’s yang.” The film also stars Mia Wasikowska as Ava, Eve’s petulant, rebellious younger sister, and John Hurt as sixteenth century poet Christopher Marlowe, who is also a vampire and living out a modern bohemian existence in the Moroccan town of Tangier. The film is set in the “romantic desolation” of both Tangier and Detroit, and rounding out the cast is Anton Yelchin, who is best known for playing Chekov in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films.
Here are two new clips from the film, showing the reunion of Adam and Eve, and a scene in which the vampires all hang out in Adam’s Detroit apartment and studio.
If you’re already familiar with Jarmusch’s style, then a lot of things in the synopsis are probably starting to sound familiar. A bleak atmosphere and a band of misfits, outsiders and loners are common themes amongst the director’s films, though Only Lovers Left Alive does mark his first venture into the realm of the supernatural (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai sadly isn’t actually about a ghost dog). Based on his director’s statement, however, it sounds like Jarmusch will primarily use the nature of the main characters to plunder the fertile depths of vampire-as-metaphor:
Only Lovers Left Alive is an unconventional love story between a man and a woman, Adam and Eve. (My script was partially inspired by the last book published by Mark Twain: The Diaries of Adam and Eve — though no direct reference to the book is made other than the character’s names.) These two lovers are archetypal outsiders, classic bohemians, extremely intelligent and sophisticated — yet still in full possession of their animal instincts. They have traveled the world and experienced many remarkable things, always inhabiting the shadowed margins of society. And, like their own love story, their particular perspective on human history spans centuries — because they happen to be vampires.
But this is not your usual vampire story. Set in the very distinct cities of Detroit and Tangier, and taking place almost entirely at night, Adam and Eve must have human blood to survive. But they now live in the world of the 21st century where biting the neck of a stranger would be reckless and regressive — for survival, they must be certain the blood that sustains them is pure and free of disease or contamination. And, almost like shadows, they have learned long ago to deftly avoid the attention of any authorities. For our film, the vampire is a resonant metaphor — a way to frame the deeper intentions of the story. This is a love story, but also the story of two exceptional outsiders who, given their unusual circumstances, have a vast overview of human and natural history, including stunning achievements and tragic and brutal failures. Adam and Eve are themselves metaphors for the present state of human life — they are fragile and endangered, susceptible to natural forces, and to the shortsighted behavior of those in power.
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Perhaps because of his experimental approach to filmmaking, Jarmusch has a mix of hits and misses in his portfolio, but highlights include his first success Stranger Than Paradise, crime drama Down by Law, and more recent comedy Broken Flowers, in which Bill Murray played a former womanizer attempting to find his long-lost illegitimate son. Though his particular tone – and love of slightly aimless, wandering plots – isn’t to everyone’s taste, he’s one of the long-standing legends of the independent film scene, and his new film would be intriguing even without the stellar cast that’s been assembled.
Does Jarmusch’s brand of idiosyncrasy and rejection of Hollywood standard storytelling leave you eager to watch Only Lovers Left Alive? Were you sold as soon as you heard the words “Tom Hiddleston plays a vampire”? Or does the entire premise leave you cold? Share your thoughts on Only Lovers Left Alive in the comments.
Only Lovers Left Alive premieres at Cannes on 25 May, 2013. Other release dates have yet to be announced.