April 2014 is turning out to be a pretty great time for limited release films. Last week’s Under the Skin is currently my favorite movie of the year, Joe is a strong film from some very talented artists, and now Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, Only Lovers Left Alive, looks to make a splash in the waters of quality pictures. The movie, starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as a pair of vampires in a very long-term relationship, stands alongside its April brethren as a solid piece of cinema.
The movie is slow – deliberately so – but that is all in an effort to show how mundane the lives of Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) truly are. The movie is a relationship drama, really; the vampirism serves to provide set dressing and a sense of epic-ness for their shared history. Adam and Eve are not instantly likable, either. They are the ultimate hipster couple, having liked practically everything before it was cool. They look down on their more mortal counterparts, referring to them as “zombies” because of the complacency modern society has instilled in them. If Swinton and Hiddleston were not so convincing, the whole thing may have fallen apart around them.
The supporting cast also does their fair share of heavy lifting, including John Hurt as an undead Christopher Marlowe and Mia Wasikowska as Ava, Eve’s younger, LA-corrupted sister. Anton Yelchin and Jeffrey Wright feature as a couple “zombies” Adam associates with out of necessity in a some very memorable scenes.
As engaging as the story and acting are, Only Lovers Left Alive is most impressive in how Jarmusch gets all of the discrete departments to blend together so seamlessly. Adam and Eve (and Marlowe) have been around so long that they have become connoisseurs of art in all it’s forms, and it is hugely important that this same sense be reflected in the film’s design. Adam is a highly prolific, but anonymous, musician, and the music throughout the film – by Jozef van Wissem – often reflects the various influences the artist has picked up over his hundreds of years of existence: industrial, eastern, classical, often all three. Music is integral to the film, and it all sounds amazing, but again, these vampires are artists in the broadest terms. Eve seems to focus more on intellectual pursuits, filling her home with piles upon piles of books, beautifully brought to life by the set decoration of Christiane Krumwiede and Selina van den Brink. The design aesthetic of the entire film is gorgeous, and Yorick Le Saux’s camera work makes it all pop, despite generally muted colors.
Jarmusch is not new to the directing game, so it should be no surprise that he can put all of his pieces in play, but Only Lovers Left Alive still manages to impress. Sure, many directors can make the aspects of their film come together, but – much like the music in the film – Jarmusch manages to get all of his departments to sing together, creating a synergistic sound that demands to be consumed.