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‘On the taxi ride here, Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” played over the radio,’ says Claire Denis, as she introduces Bastards to its second TIFF audience of the week. ‘I asked the driver to turn it up, because it seemed appropriate, I think. My film doesn’t have much redemption in it.’
An hour and a half later, Denis opens up the post-screening Q&A with something of a withdrawal; she was too extreme in her earlier assertion – maybe there is some redemption. She is vague, however, about where it might be found. ‘I’m a little nervous,’ she says. Perhaps those nerves could be linked to the polarized audiences Bastards has left in its wake since its first screening in the Un Certain Regard section (note: not the main competition) of Cannes. That divide is palpably echoed in the small screening room at the Art Gallery of Ontario: when the credits roll, a few members of the crowd applaud enthusiastically, which noise almost succeeds in covering the sound of abandoned seats springing back up; their newly fled inhabitants are still in the process of vacating the premises when Denis re-emerges on stage.
It’s strange to hear that apologetic backtrack from an artist like Denis, who seems so unflinching elsewhere. Her film is indeed quite brutal, full of ugly characters and uglier scenarios: at the heart of the narrative lies an act of sexual mutilation carried out with a cob of corn. After the suicide of his brother, Marco – a long-absent oil tanker captain – returns to Paris to find his sister-in-law battling imminent bankruptcy, and his niece, the victim of the horrific corn-based sex act, cathartic in hospital. Reluctantly, he is drawn into the mystery. We are in a world of smut and incest – part film noir, part classical revenge tragedy. Bastards flaunts its influences readily, though it never truly transcends them. Characters exist, here, in relation to the film’s plot only – no-one is depicted beyond their own role in its inevitable climax and denouement: a tidy worst-case-scenario gathering of separate threads that feels diegetic and cold.
There are occasional scenes of true impact, like the Crash-esque erotic car wreck near the movie’s end, or the grainy amateur porn film that serves as its curious appendix. They are not enough to rescue Bastards from its predominant air of stuffiness. The characters’ gasps for redemption are indeed cynically suffocated, just as Denis initially suggested. There is nothing wrong with a film that is harsh, but something feels wrong, here – cruel, even: we are left with the impression that these characters were created only to fail, that each collapse was inevitable. The effect is boring and perverse in equal measure. With no realistic prospect of redemption for any of its characters, Bastards sometimes feels like the smut film at its centre: its scope is limited to violence, seediness, desperation, and nothing beyond.
Under the Skin marks the return of Jonathan Glazer, after a nine-year hiatus punctuated by music videos and television commercials, to the world of cinema. Before it was anywhere close to being screened, the film had already built a reputation of mythic proportions. It was one of those movies: bogged down in post-production, its penned 2012 release was pushed back indefinitely – alarm bells were ringing.
Adapted, albeit very loosely, from Michael Faber’s 2000 novel of the same name, Under the Skin follows a nameless alien, played by Scarlett Johansson, as she drifts through Scotland in a white van, seducing men and offering them lifts to destinations that, we suspect, they will never reach. Many of these would-be victims were filmed candidly, meaning they were non-actors; their awkward responses to a flirtatious Johansson – unrecognisable, evidently, in this unlikely context – were unscripted. These segments, and others in which Johansson is secretly filmed in the midst of unsuspecting Scottish crowds, occasionally lend the film the tone of a nature documentary. We see gaggles of drunken city punters from the windows of the van just as she would; they are violent, loud, primal. The distance and transience with which they are treated offers us a glimpse of strange, animalistic habits. It is not Johansson who is alien in these segments.
Elsewhere, Under The Skin abandons its prominent tone of naturalism for a more stylised approach. In scenes of male bravado not dissimilar to Sexy Beast, Glazer’s most famous work to date, Johansson’s cocky victims are led through a pitch black and seemingly endless space, stripping off their clothes as they eagerly follow their seductress. Micachu’s inquisitive, suitably bleeping, score steps into the foreground here. The approach is anything but restrained in these odd symbolic scenes, in which the depicted fate of the men is submergence in a thick foetal goo, and their true ends are left undisclosed. It is the fluctuation between these glossy, metaphorical death scenes, and others of stark, brutal reality – like the one in which Johansson brains a man with a rock as an on looking baby wails – that prove most intriguing here. Glazer’s film is truly magnificent in its scope, somehow balancing these drastically conflicting approaches successfully, so that each one informs the other: life and death are seen to be simultaneously absurd, or dreamlike, and undeniably real. We are physically present, breathing, living instances of biology, yet we are extinguishable at any second. Glazer is not the first one to have noticed the flimsiness of it all, but he does an incredibly powerful job of rendering it, here.
Perhaps most impressive in this kaleidoscopic work is the development of Johansson’s character. The alien is easily able to mimic the language of sexuality and lust until the point that she begins to truly inhabit her borrowed human body. Upon discovering her own sensation, her own sexuality, and, almost simultaneously, her first sudden pangs of empathy – inarticulate and terrifying, to her – she begins to lose whatever power she held over men. No longer predatory, she is childlike and frightened. Her naked body is no longer a tool for seduction; it is the skin-thin evidence of her delicacy, her vulnerability.
One viewing of Under the Skin proves enough to see where Glazer spent all those years. The film is giddy with ambition, bursting at the seams with everything it has to offer – stylistically, aesthetically, thematically, every scene bears the mark of its author’s labour. With an alien eye for the idiosyncrasies and contradictions of life on earth, Under the Skin provides us with a flickering view of humanity at its most fragile.
My second doppelganger feature of the festival – seen hot on the heels of Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy – I somehow expected Richard Ayoade’s picture, The Double, starring Jesse Eisenberg, this time, in the two central roles, to figure as Enemy’s light-hearted and playful twin. It couldn’t get much darker than Villeneuve’s film, after all, and historical evidence in the form of Submarine, the cutesy (and, honestly, sometimes a little sickly) debut from Ayoade, served to back up my theory. Logic dictates that two seemingly identical films have to operate as yin and yang, right?
I wasn’t necessarily wrong in that prediction, though I wasn’t really right, either. Sure, The Double makes use of the comedic potential in its absurd situation – think Parent Trap style gags of mistaken identity, a heavy dependence on dramatic irony – but it would be unfairly reductive to infer nothing beyond that in this often-unsettling film. The Double, loosely adapted from Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name, deals with the terror of anonymity and insignificance: as weakling office drone Simon James sinks further into obscurity, his charismatic counterpart, James Simon, thrives in equal measure. The stammering, earnest Simon witnesses his job, his dream girl, even his apartment, high-jacked by the unwelcome intruder, but remains largely incapable of counter-action; he is unable to act in the same way that we find ourselves frozen in the most terrifying nightmares – it would be so simple, we think, for him to prove his rightful ownership of the life that slips away from him, but he is the paralysed spectator to his own downfall.
With its lightless, largely subterranean landscape, Ayoade’s film embraces its potential for metaphor. Like a 1950s advert’s prediction of the world of tomorrow (as Ayoade himself put it), the dark and dingy setting begs to be identified as the unconscious. Eisenberg’s binary performances, though less interesting, philosophically speaking, than Gyllenhaal’s more muted equivalent in Enemy, are absolutely appropriate to notions of self and other, id and super-ego – all of which themes present themselves as central, here. It is a world full of nonsense logic, where it somehow seems right that no-one apart from the doubles themselves should notice their uncanny resemblance. Kafkaesque (honestly, I mean it) in its ready abandonment of realism and reason – not to mention in its interrogation of office-induced existentialism – The Double is indeed more straightforwardly allegorical than a film like Enemy, but is no less valid for it.
It is a fitting paradox, in this film about ‘one or the other’, that Ayoade so competently finds room for both: present in equal measure, there is comedy and there is horror, playfulness and intensity, irony and sincerity. More so than its flawed predecessor, Submarine, The Double announces the artistic arrival of its idiosyncratic creator.
This year’s TIFF sees the premiere of not one, but two feature films from Quebecois director, Denis Villeneuve. Both films star Jake Gyllenhaal, who was apparently so impressed with Villeneuve on the set of Enemy that he signed up for the bigger-budget Prisoners while the former was still in production. Prisoners has been enjoying no small level of buzz since its first showing earlier in the week at Toronto. That film, set for public release immediately after the festival, marks the francophone’s first English-language release and his first access to a Hollywood cast – the movie also stars Hugh Jackman – and US funding; an obvious transition after the success of his intense and brutal 2010 work, Incendies.
Enemy, adapted from José Saramago’s novel, The Double, operates on a slightly smaller scale. A far cry from the relatively straightforward thriller format of Prisoners or Incendies, this film is surreal, experimental, philosophical. Gyllenhaal features as the centre point of a miniscule cast, playing a weak, antisocial history professor who stumbles across his exact physical double, an extra in the background of a rented movie, and seeks him out in real life. Gyllenhaal’s dual-performance is more than compelling: the never too dramatic variations in mannerisms, posture, and enunciation between his two roles are masterfully managed; each character is afforded his own distinctly compelling intensity, but the surely overwhelming temptation to play these doubles as character opposites, or two sides to the same coin, is resisted throughout – the film remains a blurred and intangible two-shot and so we struggle to locate its meaning definitively. A less delicate performance from Gyllenhaal would have us crying metaphor, or allegory, right off the bat, but Enemy often feels all too real in the hands of this actor. It is, without a doubt, a career best.
Fittingly set against the backdrop of a never-uglier Toronto, Enemy is visually claustrophobic and concrete, every bit as labyrinthine as its subject matter. One of the film’s more articulately dream-like sequences sees a giant spider looming over the hazy city, making it seem small and toy-like, destined for destruction. The film is full of these lingering existential images, dream and reality bleeding into one another in a way that will doubtless prove frustrating for some and deeply engaging for others. I find myself in the latter camp: it has been a few days and a few films since I saw Enemy, yet still I feel it working itself out in my headspace, begging to be considered, dwelled upon. Villeneuve’s stomach-turning nightmare of a film is admirable in its refusal to make it easy, yet it is a decision that never feels antagonistic or unsatisfying: the movie is compelling from the very first scene – a subterranean sex show a la Requiem for a Dream – right through to its sudden and horrific end.
There are few juxtapositions in music as startling as King Krule’s dainty, freckled face and the hardened, unmistakeably London growl that erupts when he’s on a mic. Off the back of a self-titled, two year-old EP and an elusive (and excellent) 12”, Archy Marshall released his debut 6 Feet Beneath The Moon on his 19th birthday, a feat few contemporary musicians could match. Likewise, Marshall’s rhythms and wisened production techniques are far from whatever clunky preconceptions his Donkey Kong-inspired name might suggest. 6 Feet is a tender album, albeit one that’s a little too crammed with ideas across its storied creation to have the impact it deserves.
In context, Marshall’s beyond-his-years approach is hardly surprising; much of his youth was spent flitting between schools, home tutoring and specialist education centres, all the while being tested for mental health disorders. It’s almost cliché to picture Marshall as the troubled kid nobody could see as simply wiser at that age than he ought to be, but his tone and lyrical content reflect a ripe, hardened personality. Many of these conflicts seem internal, such as on the woozy ‘Cementality’ where Marshall odes to the pavement he wishes he’d fall towards. Bleak stuff, but its lyrics are a perfect example of 6 Feet’s poetics, as Marshall’s “hard head cools to the stone cold touch”. Elsewhere, on opener ‘Easy Easy’, Krule rants the “sandwich I bought/yeah it’s been off for a week”, a shining example of his neu-Radiohead marriage of contemporary concerns and a good old moan that pairs up to be endearing rather than pitiable.
Such a young, expansive mind isn’t just limited to slick songwriting, as Marshall is well learned in the creation of soundscapes. Standout track ‘Foreign 2’ approaches menace in its synths, propelled forward with a back-and-forth arpeggio of guitar plucks and boom-bap drums. It’s these moments that show 6 Feet is more than the sum of Krule’s essentially X Factor-esque backstory; for a 19 year-old, his production is stellar, as exemplified by his enigmatic Edgar the Beatmaker and DJ JD Sports monikers (the latter of which deserves commendation for the name alone, but his (few) tunes are more than worth checking out).[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRzlbh4or3c]
6 Feet’s soundscapes are certainly unique, and Marshall knows when to break the tension with a bit of mystery on the slight ‘Will I Come’, a sample-led respite that’s as every bit mysterious as Krule himself, though it feels like 6 Feet falls down a slippery slope after the initial bubbly charge of ‘Easy Easy’ and ‘Boarder Line’, the latter of which features a summery chorus, topping the happy-go-lucky beat with synths that wouldn’t be out of place on one of The Roots’ less moody records. There’s immediate contrast when it’s followed by ‘Had This Hit?’, where, in the midst of turned-up-to-eleven instrumentation, Marshall pares it all back and shouts “why when I look into the sky/there is no meaning?” It’s one of Krule’s bolshy songs and one of the few that actually give him away as a teenager. At 52 minutes, one wonders if they really have time for his ‘Has This Hit?’s over his ‘Neptune Estate’s, a self-affirming lullaby where Marshall interjects over himself with lines like “I wanna be used” and “I wanna hold you tight”. Far and away Krule’s best song yet, it stands out by channelling Marshall’s inner teenager without getting bogged down in the outright frustration that comes at such ages.
Despite King Krule’s age, 6 Feet Beneath The Moon’s creation probably spanned a longer period than most contemporary albums, brooding and bubbling at the back of the kid’s mind since he first picked up a guitar. It often goes that the first album is an artist’s dearest for that very reason, but it turns out to be what holds 6 Feet back from straight up excellence. There’s a lot of fat that could be trimmed in the form of floaty ideas that Marshall ought to have refined or reconsidered, but what he’s given us is a varied, often scary look into the mind of its creator.
On hearing about the feature debut from the creator of Mad Men, one of contemporary television’s most consistently groundbreaking and delicately arced shows, I was perhaps more intrigued than excited. A TV series like Matthew Weiner’s is so dependant on its saga-length running – its gradual narrative shifts and painstaking character developments – that I wondered how he might bring his talents to the more concise, and for some, restrictive, format of a feature film. And especially this; not the breed of dark and stylised drama through which Weiner made his name, but a comedy starring Zach Galifianakis and Owen fucking Wilson – neither of whom are necessarily renowned for the subtlety of their performances.
You Are Here features Wilson as a commitment-phobic hedonist and womaniser; in an agonisingly typical opening montage, the charming devil neatly summarises as much to a quick-cutting selection of women. He’s just out to have a good time, folks. Best bud, Galifianakis, is a manic-depressive stoner and conspiracy theorist, teetering on the edge of total breakdown. The death of the latter’s wealthy father brings them back to their rural hometown, where Wilson meets his best friend’s young hippie stepmother and oh so predictably begins to reassess his priorities.
I wish I could suggest there was even a hint of the nuanced character work that carries a show like Mad Men to be found here, but truthfully there just isn’t. Some of the developments are in fact so clunky that they border on insulting: Galifianakis’s miraculously rapid transformation, from schizo maniac to fully functional member of society, after finally accepting the necessity for medication, is dubious at best; Laura Ramsay’s role as the free-spirited and deeply maternal Angelina is plain creaky, and so is the implication that all Wilson needs – to be ‘saved’ from a life of alcoholism and general douche-baggery – is a caring woman like her. It’s laughably easy. More laughable, in fact, than the majority of the film’s actual jokes, which too often depend on Zach Galifianakis’s undeniable instinct for comedy, born out of his physicality, his delivery, his expressions – all, admittedly, very funny – but none of which owe much to Weiner’s tired and typical writing.
Leaving the cinema, I hear someone mention that Weiner wrote the script ten years ago. It shows. You Are Here is nothing more than run-of-the-mill rom-com, and a bad, thoroughly dated one, at that.
The Barclaycard Mercury Prize is a unique prize in the realm of popular music because it is one of the only ones that anybody pays any attention to. It is a celebration of British music and those albums which make the shortlist are widely accepted as some of the best music to have been produced the world over in the past 12 months. Yesterday, the shortlist for this year’s prize was announced and the nominated acts were (in alphabetical order) as follows:
- Arctic Monkeys – AM
- David Bowie – The Next Day
- Disclosure – Settle
- Foals – Holy Fire
- Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg
- James Blake – Overgrown
- Jon Hopkins – Immunity
- Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
- Laura Mvula – Sing To The Moon
- Rudimental – Home
- Savages – Silence Yourself
- Villagers – Awayland
The first thing to be said about the shortlist is that as time goes by it seems to be slowly but surely moving itself away from the left field and towards the sort of acts which are more usually found on Radio One. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this move and the removal of the acts such as the customary token jazz band is healthy for the prize in terms of competition. There are more people on this year’s list who you feel could actually win the thing, whereas before it was patently obvious that some nominees were just happy to be there. Jon Hopkins is probably the only person who you would think would not at least be in with an outside chance.
The danger of a more radio friendly list, of course, is that it becomes less about the diversity of British music and more about sales and corporate back slapping. Now, it would be harsh to claim that this year’s list was guilty of this and, indeed, names such as Laura Marling and James Blake, who don’t usually trouble the Top 40 deserve to be celebrated. However, there are, as ever with these shortlists, a few artists who really should be on this list and a few who probably shouldn’t be. Here are five who missed out along with the acts they could replace:
- Bastille, Bad Blood – Say what you like about the musical integrity of unashamedly big tunes, but when the tunes are as big and as consistent as they are on Bastille’s Bad Blood it is a shame that they don’t receive the praise they deserve. They should replace Laura Mvula. Although SIng To The Moon is nice, it lacks bite.
- Dutch Uncles, Out of Touch in the WIld – Dutch Uncles are probably one of Britain’s most under-appreciated bands. This, their third effort, is a triumph of complicated and minutely crafted pop. They should replace Jon Hopkins.
- Everything Everything, Arc – After being nominated for the 2011 Mercury Prize with their debut album Man Alive, the Manchester outfit have gone from strength to strength and with their second album Arc they have established themselves as one of Britain’s most interesting bands. More interesting than Rudimental anyway, who get the boot to make way for them.
- Frightened Rabbit, Pedestrian Verse – The remoter corners of the UK are not particularly well represented in this year’s list and the omission of Scottish outfit Frightened Rabbit is a harsh one. Pedestrian Verse is a triumph of awkward intimacy and should replace the disappointing Awayland by Villagers as this year’s Celtic entry.
- King Krule, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon – I’m going to remove Jake Bugg from the list to make room for King Krule which is probably harsh but as teen prodigies go Krule easily trumps Bugg in terms of the complexity and the possibility of the music he makes.
There we have it then. Some alternatives to an otherwise pretty decent selection of music.
As to the winner? It’s difficult to see past the Arctic Monkeys scooping their second Mercury gong for their fifth album AM although I’d like to see Laura Marling take home the goods.
The Arctic Monkeys are a band who have undergone a difficult musical transition since they burst onto the scene in 2006. At the time the band were in their mid-to-late-teens and had given little thought to how they wanted to ‘sound’. What came out was a cheeky indie-rock, lapped up by an adoring audience who catapulted them to success and hailed the young Alex Turner as the voice of a generation.
Over their next three albums the band grew up and developed their music. Whilst Favourite Worst Nightmare could be seen as a continuation of their debut sound, Humbug, their third effort, went in a different direction, containing influences from a heavier brand of rock enforced by collaborations with Queens of the Stone Age front-man Josh Homme. It was by no means a bad album but Humbug alienated a large proportion of their fans. Barring the odd single, the band somewhat faded from the mainstream public consciousness. 2011’s Suck It and See saw a further honing of the bands musical style, maintaining a heavier sound but moving back towards chorus led pop songs. However, it lacked big singles and did not re-achieve the heights of their early years. But then things changed.
The Arctic Monkeys have a pleasing habit of releasing a lot of inter-album material and on the 26th of February last year they released the no holds barred ‘R U Mine? ‘. The song had a swagger and a simplicity of structure to it. A heavy, commanding riff, and a killer chorus were coupled with the most quick-witted that Alex Turner’s consistently excellent lyrics have been for years. It was the sound of a band who had decided what they wanted to sound like and it was brilliant.
In the build up to AM the band released another two new songs, ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ and ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ . The songs were the subtler, purring cousins to ‘R U Mine?’ but revealed the common threads of their new material to be groove-led and completely anthemic. Whoever was in charge of doing the PR and marketing for AM had done a very good job. These three songs announced that the Arctic Monkeys once again had something to say.
All three of these songs feature on AM and it is a testament to the album that they do not outshine any of the other tracks on the record. In fact, there is very little fat on AM. ‘Do I Wanna Know’ and ‘R U Mine’ open proceedings before giving way to the equally excellent ‘One for the Road’ and the highly critically lauded ‘Arabella’. It is easily the strongest opening quartet to feature on an album so far this year and a clear and emphatic entrance to one of the records of 2013. These four songs are the sound of modern Rock and Roll.
After this opening foray, AM takes us on a tour of the Arctic Monkey’s influences. ‘I Want it All’ could easily be a Queens of the Stone Age song circa Songs for the Deaf but it is a testament to the boys from Sheffield that it sounds weak in comparison to the other stuff on AM. ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ is the type of flawless ballad that Beady Eye can only dream of and ‘Mad Sounds’ is a paean to late 60’s Rock. ‘Fireside’ and ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ ratchet things up a notch before the bouncy pop of ‘Snap Out of It’ kicks in and gives Miles Kane hope that one day Alex Turner may do another Last Shadow Puppets record. AM is wrapped-up by slow burner ‘Knee Socks’ and the luscious ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, a mid-eighties John Cooper Clarke Poem set to music.
Despite the many differing influences present on AM its strength lies in its fundamental coherency. Whether they are drawing on Queens of the Stone Age or The Velvet Undergound the Arctic Monkeys still sound unmistakably and effortlessly like the Arctic Monkeys. Although it is unclear what the initials AM actually stand for, it may as well be Arctic Monkeys. The best band in Britain putting their quiet stamp on their finest work for 7 years.
Some films are resistant to bad press. Early word from Cannes on Jarmusch’s rock ‘n’ roll vampire flick was less than enthusiastic, yet the public screening of Only Lovers Left Alive at Toronto saw lines stretching the entire perimeter of a city block, even in torrential rain. Watching the never-ending crowd filter into the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, and casting a glance at the even larger line of hopefuls waiting to fill any potential empty seats, it became apparent that people – and especially a festival crowd – are prepared to give an auteur like Jarmusch the benefit of the doubt. Who could blame them with a film like this? Tilda Swinton as a vampire, directed by perhaps the most notoriously cool filmmaker on the planet. There’s just no way it cannot be good. Right?
Split between Tangiers and Detroit, Only Lovers sees Eve (Swinton) attempt to coax her depressed vamp husband, Adam, played by Tom Hiddleston, away from the ledge of a premature end to immortality. Adam, the passionate hermit, grows increasingly cynical of the prospects of life on Earth, especially while it’s still controlled by the ‘zombies’ – that’s you and me – who seem so determined to destroy it. As he contemplates putting an end to it all with a specially made wooden bullet, Adam continues to compose a series of apocalyptic noise rock masterpieces. The score, essentially a continuation of Jarmusch’s recent musical collaborations with Jozef Van Wissem, stands out as a strong point here, repeatedly injecting a much-needed sense of impending doom into an often-meandering plot. Indeed, the film is not a work of suspense-driven horror. For the most part, these vampires abstain from their most infamous vice, seeking out other methods of satisfying their thirst. Feeding from humans is ‘so fifteenth century,’ says Swinton, in one of the film’s flattest gags. There are a lot of them, too, – the gags, I mean – and they unfortunately follow a pattern: humour, here, is born almost entirely out of genre, and not the character work that made a film like Down By Law hilarious. How many jokes, in this movie, are built upon nothing other than the historical access of its ancient protagonists? Controversial character references of Shubert and Tennyson get their laughs, but feel too easy – or worse: cheap.
Only Lovers, as a whole, feels a little too easy. An eclectic, nostalgic soundtrack and a bookshelf featuring Infinite Jest are somehow expected to launch the film into the cult status it sets out for. Yet truthfully, at its worst, the film plays out more like a slow episode of True Blood than the new feature from the world’s coolest director. The rock ‘n’ roll immortal is not a new trope, by any means, and nor is the abstaining world-weary vampire. There are aspects of intrigue – inevitably, with this director – that do rescue the film from being totally boring. The delicacy with which Jarmusch handles each landscape – the ghost town grandeur of Detroit, the labyrinthine Tangiers streets – leaves more than a few powerful images floating around. The scenes focussed around music, and its live performance, recall the mesmerising shows in Wings of Desire, and are sometimes every bit as arresting. Middleston thrives in his performance as the ungrateful dead artist, every bit as severe, stroppy, and likeable as he should be. Swinton’s kind, maternal Eve, is likewise enormously charismatic, bringing an ethereal delicacy to a role that is classically brutal and dangerous. Yet there is little innovation elsewhere, and it is a crime that may be unforgivable of an artist like Jarmusch; surely when grappling with the most tired and tacky genre of contemporary cinema, we should expect something more, from him, than a reiteration of overworked themes and an overdependence on cult references. Only Lovers Left Alive ends up feeling like a wasted opportunity. Sure, as far as vampire films go, this is a marginally more interesting and artistically justifiable one. But only marginally.