Tilda Swinton injects her own brand of otherworldly-cool into Jim Jarmusch's latest movie "Only Lovers Left Alive," an unusual comedy that puts a spin on the age-old vampire genre.
The film, the last English-language entry competing for the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or, sees Swinton play Eve, a grungy but erudite vampire — who's married to a forlorn vampire musician, Adam, played by Tom Hiddlestone. Several-hundred-year-old Adam — of Biblical fame — has been living quite happily ever since being expelled from the Garden of Eden.
That is, until the 21st century came along with its excesses and greed and pushed him into a full-flung existential crisis. He cracks, and orders a wooden bullet to kill himself. With such a wacky plot, it's no surprise the film nearly didn't get made. It took seven years to find a backer — which Jarmusch blames on the fact producers won't take creative risks anymore.
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"I wanted to make a vampire love-story...The reason it took so long was that no one wanted to give us the money. It's getting more and more and more difficult for films that are maybe a little unusual or not predictable or not satisfying the expectations of everybody — which is the beauty of cinema, discovering new films of all forms."
He added: "But look, now we're here at Cannes."
Lovers of independent cinema and vampire fans should certainly be pleased the film saw the light of day, or perhaps, night. It quirkily spruces up vampire lore. Adam and Eve are not about blood-sucking and murder — but refined lovers of literature, science, music and learning in general. When Eve's estranged sister "drinks Ian," a friend, to death, Eve tells her off saying that in the 21st century people just won't understand such barbarity. (The verb "drink," instead of "blood-sucking," was one of the many moments that provoked raucous laughter from spectators.) It's not like they can just dump the bodies in the Thames with the tuberculosis sufferers like in old times, she says. Now, in the 21st century, they get their blood from the blood-transfusion section of a hospital. Alongside this, John Hurt plays a vampire Christopher Marlowe, who's still bitter that Shakespeare became more famous.
Swinton said the film provided a unique opportunity to reinvent the vampire genre.
"There's a feeling of beautiful luxury about approaching this kind of portrait, because you can come with a Martian's-eye view... We were able to create our own lexicon," she said. Here the vampires elegantly cover their mouths; and have a strange ritual with gloves that goes unexplained.
At heart, the film is the love story between Adam and Eve, who try to rekindle their love despite living in different places, he in Detroit and she in Tangiers. It is as touching as it is odd.
"We knew we needed to show a long ... that was so evolved that what they actually say to each other is the tip of the iceberg of a conversation they've been having for 500 years. That was very interesting. We wanted to show a couple who are trying to stay together. Trying to live obviously but also trying to live together." At one comic moment, Eve looks at a grainy photo where they're both dressed in 19th century clothing. "Our third wedding," she sighs.
The love story between immortal beings also raised philosophical questions for the leading man Hiddlestone, who said playing Adam was a "fascinating prospect" — a chance of breaking away from the more conventional superhero roles, such villain Loki in 2011's Marvel Studios film Thor, for which he is the most famous.
"The idea of exploring love in the context of immortality — is (it) a blessing because it recurs, and what does that do to your commitments?" he said.
When news originally got out that Jarmusch, the director of 1999's dark samurai film "Ghostdog," which was also nominated for the Palme d'Or, was going to do a love film on vampires, left many unconvinced. But Swinton was not one of them and backed the project from the start.
"I was never surprised," she said. "I felt like saying (Jim) you've been making vampire films for years."