A really smart and ambitious take on Dostoyevsky’s The Double that doesn’t quite ‘play.’ In the film, the present is imagined as a dark 19th-century world with 1930s appliances where everyone is lonely, the self is divided, alienation is the norm and suicide is the only way out. Jesse Eisenberg plays two versions of a character and impresses with each. That it doesn’t quite ‘play’ is not as bad as it sounds. Many great movies don’t: La règle du jeu, The Magnificent Ambersons, many others; and if Ayoade’s film is nowhere near that level, it still makes for a fascinating watch. The Double is beautiful to look at, all noir-and-amber lighting, characters in frames within frames, boxed in, and with the camera often zooming out so that their imprisonment becomes complete. Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska are mesmeric and I loved seeing Cathy Moriarty again. After Submarine and The Double, Richard Ayoade is no longer a director of promise but one of achievement.
In Only Lovers Left Alive, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are said to have lived for thousands of years but clearly haven’t spent even ten minutes of them Hoovering their homes. They live in dusty spaces crammed with things they’ve loved enough to keep for centuries, books and music mostly. Some people walked out of the film but I loved it; the anomie, the sadness, the great r&b tracks — particularly Charlie Feathers’ Can’t Hardly Stand Itand Denise Lasalle’s Trapped by a Thing Called Love — which speak of loss and loneliness but with an energy that conveys the opposite; the use of drugs as a parable for vampirism; the final insistent choice on life and love. It’s stayed with me all day.
The film begins with Adam, played by Tom Hiddlestone, shy, reclusive, living in Detroit, a city as much of a shell of former glories as he himself, a spectral place with hidden beauties, echoes of former lives and secret places were bodies can easily be disposed of. Adam lives for his music and for his fix. He’s got everything neatly arranged, a doctor who gives him top-grade, really pure blood and a sweet-faced squeaky-voiced young man (Anton Yelchin) on the edges of the music industry who might be pirating and selling on Adam’s compositions but can arrange pretty much everything else Adam might need and is well-paid for doing so. Adam is trying to find a reason to continue living and having trouble finding it.
Meanwhile, Eve (Tilda Swinton) is living in Tangiers, the Tangiers of myth with Pepe Le Moko streets, Paul and Jane Bowles ambiance, and the sheltering sky of balmy nights and a good supply. She’s got a friend there, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt, gruff, poetic, endearing) who is also her connection to centuries-old literary gossip and grade-A blood. Her life is neatly arranged until she talks to Adam, finds out the extent of his loneliness and goes out to him. Adam and Eve once, maybe even originary lovers, reconnect as soul-mates, wonder through the nights, talk, find their old maybe unexciting but still essential rhythm with each other, until Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) arrives. The aptly named Ava, with her disrespect for convention, her selfish need to have a good time, her intense focus on her bodily needs and pleasures disrupt the more cerebral, retired life of Adam and Eve and brings chaos: though Adam and Even try to keep the humans they call zombies at bay, Ava has a positive and dangerous relish for them.
I can’t imagine watching Only Lovers Left Alive on anything but a big screen. It has its own pace, one which requires patience, but if you give yourself to its tempo and its conceits, it draws one into its enveloping images and and hazy rhythms, enthralls, involves you in its play of allegory, meaning, sensation. By the end, the audience becomes enveloped and enchanted by the Tangier sky, the night, the music, the feelings and views of worn out junkies in love wondering what the point of it all is, the speculation on the meaning of life and art. Then, when Adam and Eve, and we, hear Yasmine Hamdam sing ‘Hal’ in a café, we understand why art, why evoking what Hamdam conveys and makes us feel, is worth living for — even if the price is murder. And we then realise that Only Lovers Left Alive has provided that as well.
It was nominated for the Palme D’Or at Cannes and worth seeing on the largest screen you can find.
Albert Nobbs is almost unbearably sad, Glenn Close’s performance almost too uncompromising, but I was very moved by the film. I almost walked out several times as you know something horrible is just about to happen and then it really does and you just can’t bear it. The life depicted is so sad, so hopeless, an example of such self-denial that the problem goes beyond unfulfilled desire. The film is set in 19th Century Dublin. Albert Nobbs is already in late middle-age, barely making a living as a waiter and then falls in love with a beautiful young girl. The problem is that Albert Nobbs is not quite a man and because he’s ‘passing’ as one and knows no other way of living independently, s/he can’t afford to allow him/herself the luxury of mere and basic human wants. Everything is confined, repressed, reined in, closed-up. When those wants are finally acknowledged it seems as if in opening him/herself up to the world he also enters a process of becoming, of finally being, of being human. It turns out that what s/he wants is a wife but s/he doesn’t really know what that involves; s/he wants company and a parlour; but s/he is too damaged to even think of love. When s/he does, the narrative unfurls into tragedy and engulfs one with sadness. Glenn Close’s performance is extraordinary; she totally loses herself in that part and really makes you imagine, think, feel for that wo/man. Mia Wasikowska is naïve, fresh, very appealing; Pauline Collins brings greed, a wink and much-needed humour to every shot she’s in; Janet McTeer will surely become a big new lesbian icon (if she isn’t one already). It’s an actors’ movie and I’m very glad I saw it. It’s a film that honestly earns whatever tears it garners.
The poster for Stoker doesn’t tell you that it’s a Park Chan-Wook film; nor that Nicole Kidman’s in it. The film itself is super-stylish, rather creepy, and with snaps of violence that makes one yelp with queasiness. Mia Wasikowska is marvelous as the pervy schoolgirl. It’s written by the hottie from Prison Break, Wentworth Miller.