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Monday, June 22, 2009

Nadja on DVD

I watched Nadja over the last couple of days-- if you don't recall it, this is a vampire movie in the same sense that Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary is a vampire movie-- which is to say it's an art movie first and a vampire movie someehere about ninth. Look, this should settle it for you: Nadja is in black and white and was produced in 1993 by David Lynch. Sound like something you'd like? I'll bet you already know.

For vampire fans there is indeed some wonderful stuff here. At the heart of the film is Elina Lowensohn as Nadja, a vampire in New York. Lowensohn is completely entrancing as the vampire-- sexy but almost unassuming and even innocent in her delivery. She is a sort of slow-talking manic pixie dream girl they build romantic comedies around, except that eventually she is going to kill you. It's a riveting performance; the movie loses some steam anytime she's not onscreen.

Nadja is, in fact, the daughter of Dracula, whom Nadja senses has died and whose death has sent Nadja into paroxysms of existential angst. This is the kind of movie where existential angst involves a lot of dancing to house music and slowly walking through Manhattan to Portishead. The look of the film is mesmerizing; the beauty of black and white sometimes leads me to wonder if a lot of films wouldn't play better this way-- would THE THING be better if you turned off the color? What about HALLOWEEN? Nadja picks up lovely young bride Lucy and falls in love with her, but unfortunately Lucy is already married, and her husband hangs out with an uncle named Van Helsing.

The rest of the cast is playing bonkers material with expert deadpan. Peter Fonda turns in his kookiest performance ever, playing Van Helsing as a thoroughly mad vampire hunter whose slow delivery and matter-of-fact discussion of vampires and the need to hunt him deflect from his own insanity. Between the hunter and the hunted are the young, troubled couple Jim and Lucy, played by Martin Donovan and Galaxy Craze.

Nadja cannot be watched as straight narrative because it's too much a movie about vampire movies, or about the idea of vampire movies, I think. The dialog is generally ironic and played entirely straight (early on, Nadja tells the mortuary attendant: "We have come for the body of Count Voivoida Armenios Ceau┼čescu Dracula. I believe there is a wooden stake in the heart. You will take us to him.") In the trailer, these lines sound hilarious, but in the movie the humor is much more muted, daring you to laugh.

Two very interesting ideas in amongst all the angst, which when you get down to it is the same angst every vampire movie references, although here it's much more beautifully done. But besides the angst we get this:
- first, this movie owes a great deal to DRACULA'S DAUGHTER almost to the point of being a remake, both in basic plot and many visuals, especially the garb of Nadja and her languid servant. Here's the trailer for that lovely film

- second, I'm fascinated by the presentation here of Dracula, recently dead, here presented as having been tired, washed up, "like Elvis in the end," sad and confused and so prone to being killed that he must have been suicidal. It's interesting to hear of Dracula dying of ennui.

Haunting and sometimes slow to the point of sleepiness, Nadja is perhaps the best genuine art house vampire movie ever. If that sounds like something you would appreciate-- it's certainly something I appreciate, although it's fun to switch from this to something more traditional like HORROR OF DRACULA-- then I recommend it.

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