Jim Jarmusch’s vampire love story “Only Lovers Left Alive” begins with an irresistible shot: Tilda Swinton, barefoot and clad in a regal-looking black-and-gold robe, reclines on a chaise by an ornate bed, her head thrown back and her untamed-looking blond tresses streaming down. She is surrounded by unruly piles of books, each representing delicious hours lost. It’s a reminder of an undeniable advantage enjoyed by the undead: They really do, over all those centuries, get a lot of reading done.
You don’t so much watch this movie as slink into it, joining an unlikely pair of lovers and enjoying their slouchy elegance. Not much happens, and not much needs to. Swinton is Eve, a paperwhite beauty who lives in her book-lined lair in Tangiers; Tom Hiddleston, also chalkily exquisite, is her longtime lover Adam, an underground musician living in Detroit. She travels to visit him, continuing their centuries-long romance, but their idyll is interrupted by her troublesome sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska). Blood is drunk; squabbles ensue (just consider how many years vampires have to hold on to sibling grudges); a body is dumped; an unending life moves on, as it must.
Despite the frequent doses of blood served in ornate glasses, like a rare ruby cordial, “Only Lovers Left Alive” isn’t really a horror story. It’s more of a mood piece, full of literary name-dropping (Adam and Eve, of course, consorted with the Romantic poets long ago) and languorous lounging about in dimly lit rooms. (It’s also, at times, wryly funny; note how, on a night flight in a first-class airplane cabin, pretty much everyone looks like a vampire.)
Swinton and Hiddleston, both with cheekbones that could draw blood and hair that looks to be perpetually standing on end (it’s as if they’re always shivering), seem born to play this couple, in the elegant, affectionate ennui that sets in after a few hundred years together. This film’s sleepy rhythms become infectious; you feast on this vampire couple, and miss them when they’re gone.
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