Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Cannes Review of Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch breathes new death into the vampire movie

Sat, May 25, 2013, 17:42




Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Starring Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright

In competition, 122 min

The latest film by Jim Jarmusch, poet of inactivity, may have a soothing languor to it, but you wouldn’t say it looks like the work of an old man. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

That much devalued word “cool” can still be applied to Jim’s work. Only Lovers Left Alive stars an aristocratically gracious Tilda Swinton and a greasily flinty Tom Hiddleston as two ancient vampires named — with nods to biblical antiquity — Eve and Adam. After a brief prologue in Tangier (you suave beatniks), the couple come together in the most suitable of American cities: the deserted, undead Detroit. Anybody who has ever allowed a copy of l’Etranger to poke from their corduroy jacket will savour the conspicuous references to cultural icons the two have, in their lengthy time, rubbed up against. When travelling, they call themselves Stephen Dedalus and Daisy Buchanan. Photos of Thelonious Monk, Buster Keaton and Neil Young adorn their walls. In the opening few moments, John Hurt turns up as a weathered weary Christopher Marlowe (hang on, didn’t Marlowe die in his thirties? Oh, never mind.) Ambling along at the director’s characteristically relaxed pace, the film feels like the work of professionals who — rather than just jumping on the vampire bus — absolutely adore what they are doing. The sense that these vampires (who refer to us as “zombies”) have been the true guardians of culture is a nice conceit that never outstays its welcome. The choice of Detroit as a location is inspired.

The potential problem is that, well, it will appeal to anybody who has ever allowed a copy of l’Etranger to poke from their corduroy jacket. Isn’t Jim now a little too old to be this young?

Forget all that. After the ponderous misstep that was The Limits of Control, Only Lovers Left Alive finds Jarmusch reconnecting with an uncomplicated (if not unaffected) desire to entertain. The film is spooky, funny, ironic and touchingly in love with pre-digital culture. The hip kids love that stuff too you know. As the vampires explain during a late-night car journey, you can see Jack White’s house from here.

Hugely recommended.