Byzantium



I can't believe I haven't given a review and commentary on this film yet.  I first watched it almost a year ago because I like Neil Jordan.  Plus I was intrigued that he filmed another vampire film even though "Interview with a Vampire" has dwarfed all this other films.

This is a much smaller film than the Tom Cruise mega blockbuster of the early 90s.  Instead of tortured vampires alienated by their advancing years, the mother-daughter team of this film seem eternally trapped in adolescence/early adulthood.  The continual hormonal swings makes their union fraught with drama.  Even though actors Ronan and Arterton are only a few years apart, they totally made me believe that they were mother and daughter.  They are strange and spooky pair: Mother/Daughter, Blood Sisters, Toxic BFFs with a vibe that borders almost on the incestual.  Ronan's character Eleanor is eternally innocent looking and constantly rebels against her mother's rough coddling.  Eleanor wants to be an adult even if she will never achieve this physically.  She needs the guidance of a real adult which her mother, Clara, both is and isn't.  Clara herself was forced into prostitution as a teenager and into a virtual prison of a brothel.  She was never allowed to grow up since her trade required her to play the coy girl.  But Clara is anything but coy.

I'm not lying when I say the success of this film depends entirely on performance of Gemma Arterton.  She meets the challenge with gusto.  Her character is a wild, force of nature and retribution.  She wears her sexuality like armor.  Her skimpy clothing her sword and shield.  In none of her revealing outfits or situations, does Clara seem like she is unclothed or vulnerable.  But we can also see the brittleness of her demeanor.  True love failed her when she needed it most.  So she pours everything she has into her daughter.  The men she meets deserve only her scorn.  Indeed she towers over all of them.  The fraternity of vampires called the Brotherhood, reject her because she is female.  But the scene is filmed in such a way, with Clara in quiet, restrained composure contrasted against agitated males that it is almost funny.  Obviously the organization that guides and succors vampires is practically a monastery and Clara is way too much woman for the lot of them.  In an early scene, a confrontation with one of the Brothers reveals that he is both attracted, frightened and repelled by her.  Clara senses this and constantly invades his personal space noting his flinches as he moves away from her.

In her way Clara tries to shield Eleanor from life.  The reasons have to do with why she turns Eleanor into a vampire.  Also because the Brotherhood is appalled that a child was turned into one of them.  But there is a great deal of resentment buried inside Clara toward her daughter as well.  Due to constantly being on the run from the Brotherhood, they are forced to exist outside society.  Clara can never leave prostitution behind because it is the only way she can make a lot of money without being on the grid.  This gives the film a rather Weill like The Seven Deadly Sins twist.  Ja, Anna indeed!  Despite wanting to protect Eleanor from the vileness of life, she also can't help but rub her child's nose in what she does to help them survive, whether it is to parade around in revealing clothing or bringing her Johns to their makeshift home.  In one altercation, Clara yells at Eleanor that she does what she does to put food on the table which is a mother's duty.  So incensed are they that they forget to keep up the sister act they hide behind.

While the film aspires to something grand, it doesn't quite reach that level.  It is made up of story threads that could reach grandeur but almost none of them are explored due to it primarily being a character piece.  But it is definitely worth seeing and it is a great addition to Vampire pop culture lore.

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