Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Nadja (1994)

Title: Nadja (1994)

Director: Michael Almereyda

Cast: Peter Fonda, Galaxy Craze, Jared Harris, Elina Lowensohn

Vampires by way of David Lynch? Sign me up! So you get David Lynch to not only produce your vampire movie but to cameo in it as well? You lucky bastards you! So anyhow, here we have an art house vampire flick; which is not the rarity you might think it is. True, there are many crappy vampire films being produced every day (way too many if you ask me) but you’d be surprised at just how many ‘art-house’ vampire flicks are out there as well.  I remember  a few of them, let see, there’s Blood for Dracula (1974), made artful simply by the fact that it was directed by Andy Warhol himself, then we have Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983), Blood and Donuts (1995), Romero’s Martin (1976), Del Toro’s Cronos (1993) to mention just a few of the most prominent examples. These are vampire films that don’t concentrate so much on the gore and guts; rather, they focus on presenting us with a more artful and original takes on the vampire genre.

Nadja does the same thing that a lot of contemporary vampire movies do, they play out their story in a modern setting, but it essentially plays with all the characters and situations presented on Bram Stoker’s famous novel. So on Nadja we have a Dracula, a Dr. Van Helsing, a Lucy, a Reinfeld and so on. But don’t mistake Nadja for just another retelling of Bram Stoker’s novel, instead, the film plays like a day in the life of the Dracula family. You see, according to this film, Dracula had many children over the centuries, and now they roam the earth, feeding on humans. Nadja is the daughter of Dracula, and when we first meet her, she is on her way to meet her brother, to let him know that their father has truly died. Along the way, Nadja falls for and seduces a blond girl by the name of ‘Lucy’ and after their lustful encounter, Lucy can’t forget her. Will Lucy turn into a full vampire? Or can Van Helsing and his nephew save her from the clutches of the vampire family?

So first things first, Nadja is not only artsy fartsy, it is extremely artsy-fartsy! Starting by the fact that the film is in black and white, which by the way I found very pleasing to the eye. I am not a black and white hater, in fact, for certain projects I say it fits perfectly, for example in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City (2005) the black and white augments the sense of film noir and the feeling of reading one of Frank Miller’s black and white comic books. The black and white goes with Nadja because the filmmakers obviously display a certain admiration for old school horror movies like White Zombie (1932) and Dracula (1931), going as far as actually using some scenes from White Zombie as part of the film; which brings to mind how Nadja turned out to be a straight forward vampire film, I was expecting even more subtlety with the vampire themes, but nope, it’s pretty straight forward. It might as well have been called Daughter of Dracula or something! In Nadja we meet Dracula’s daughter and she’s this slick lady who loves to smoke her cigarettes by the pale moon light walking around the city looking all sorts of mysterious and sexy. The black and white also gives Nadja the feel of an experimental film, which in many ways it is.

The blurry effect

For example, the director decided to use a blurry vision effect to demonstrate how it would feel to be under the power of a vampire. During these scenes, the image of the films looks as if it’s being filtered through some sort of really low definition camera that’s out of focus as well, so we see these blurry images. I say this effect works within the context of what the director is trying to achieve, but I also think he over used it; for example there were various scenes in which I was digging the crisp black and white imagery and suddenly the director would switch back to the blurry vision thing, to me it got in the way of enjoying the black and white cinematography which was beautiful; though I will admit the blurry effect also adds to the strangeness of the film. Nadja certainly exudes a strange vibe, that feeling of being somewhere in the middle of the city during the deep hours of the night, when the freaks come out. So just be ready for a film that takes many risks by trying different visual techniques like these.  

Like many vampires who have walked for eons upon the earth, the vampires in Nadja like to philosophize about life and muse about the way things are, it’s one of the things I liked about the film. Something might be happening and suddenly one of the vampires starts philosophizing, handing out golden nuggets of wisdom. They say things like “The pain I feel is the pain of fleeting joy” referring to her passing relationships. And speaking of relationships, this is yet another lesbian vampire film to add to the list. Nadja likes the ladies and falls for one of her victims, just like in VampyrosLesbos (1971), Daughters of Darkness (1971) and Vampire Lovers (1970). In fact, at times Nadja felt like a remake of Vampyros Lesbos with regards to the character of Lucy and the relationship that develops between her and Nadja. They meet in a bar, hit it off and end up having a crazy night together that ends in seduction. The day after, Lucy can’t think of anything else but being with Nadja! Same thing happens with the two romantically entangled lady vampires in Vampyros Lesbos. But this shouldn’t surprise anyone, vampires have always been the embodiment of seduction.  

The actress who plays Nadja, Elina Lowensohn is so beautiful and exotic looking, I add her to that roster of actresses who’s look is so otherworldly that they light the screen on fire whenever they appear. Elina Lowensohn’s performance as Nadja brought to mind the equally seductive performances of actresses like Nastassja Kinski in Cat People (1982) or Anne Parillaud in Innoncent Blood (1992), you know sexy, dangerous, exotic looking female fatales. Bottom line with Nadja is that it’s a very somber film, with lots of serious vampires smoking cigarettes and musing about life. At its core is a story centered on family “as you get older you begin to realize that family is the only thing that matters” and relationships but told through the filter of the whole Dracula mythology. During the film we follow Dracula’s siblings and discover they’ve been feuding for years; can they deal with each other after years of avoidance, especially now that their father's death has brought them together? At the same time, you’ll find some comedy squeezed in between all the seriousness; but it’s very subtle, never in your face. Peter Fonda’s Dr. Van Helsing is an amusing performance, he offers up some of those subtle yet effective comedic moments. The thing with a movie like this is that you gotta be in a very mellow vibe to watch it; you gotta want to watch a slow, quiet film about brooding sad vampires. Save it for one of those nights when you want to see something different, artful and experimental in nature, hey it was produced by David Lynch (he even cameos in it!) what’d you expect? Normality?

Rating: 3 out of 5   

David Lynch cameos in Nadja


Maurice Mitchell said...

Lynch is such a fascinating director and the idea of Dracula's daughter is fascinating.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, Nadja is influenced a bit by Lynch which is why I decided to include it as part of my tribute to Lynch. During all of November, I will not only be reviewing most of Lynch's films, but also films that are influenced by his work. so keep your eyes pealed for that.


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