There’s something sad about watching someone who possessed a winsome flair slowly losing their grip on it. I have yet to see some of Mr Jarmusch’s finest films, including Dead Man and Broken Flowers. However, in those I have seen (Night on Earth, Coffee and Cigarettes, Down by Law) there’s a distinctive aesthetic to be savoured. Part of their charm was the feeling of a creator capable of making a film that was more than the sum of its parts. The ingenuity involved in fooling the machine, which is one part of the great skill of beat-the-budget filmmaking (whether that’s a big budget or a little one). You don’t need to blow up skyscrapers in order to make something watchable. Or sink the Titanic.
Unfortunately, Only Lovers feels as though if anything, the filmmaker was in possession of more funds than he needed. Locations in Tangiers and Detroit. Reasonably famous actors. Well dressed sets. To tell what is a sparse vampire narrative. There’s something about the vampire narrative that seems to bring out the worst in filmmakers. From Ms Denis to Mr Coppola. Maybe the directors are lured by the notion of cinema as innately vampiric: the immortality celluloid bestows, preserving its stars in the amber of perfect youthfulness. Or they see themselves concealed within the genre's narrative: the director as vampire, appropriating the actors’ blood to realise their own dreams. With the possible of exception of Dreyer, and by default Herzog, it rarely seems to work. Hiddlestone and Swinton’s decadent immortals are supposed to come across as louche and sophisticated but actually come across as an unsophisticated idea of what a louche, sophisticated Englishman or woman might be, a kind of cartoon version. The whole film, with many a ridiculous line, feels as though it might have worked better as a cartoon, which would at least allow the creator’s imagination to take the viewer to places which this stylised naturalism aspires to but never reaches.