Watching this, I was reminded of Interview with the Vampire. In atmosphere, but especially in story — a vampire telling his / her history, cutting between present day and centuries before. It was only later that I discovered both were directed by Neil Jordan. The rarely-miscast Tom Cruise is replaced by Gemma Arterton; the always-miscast Kirsten Dunst is replaced by Saoirse Ronan. If Jordan was trying to atone for past sins, he succeeded.
Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) is a 16 going on 217 vampire who occasionally writes the story of her life, and tosses a page out the window, to the wind, to the sea. This time, she sees an old codger pick one up. Turns out he has collected enough of these pages to know her story. Talk about a perfect match: he has lived a long, lonely life and is ready to die; she feeds only on those who wish to die. Her thumbnail morphs into a raptor-like talon and everybody’s a winner.
Meanwhile Mom, also a vampire, has fled from the bar where she strips after a man recognizes her. Wow, vampire strippers hate that, too? After a nice foot-race through a grocery store, through a warehouse, and through the skylight of a mall, they somehow end up back at her place. After making nice for about 30 seconds, she slices the man’s head off. When Eleanor arrives home, they torch the place and head out.
Mother and daughter both meet guys that night. The difference is Mom gets her man by offering “€50 for a blow and a €100 for a full whack.” Eleanor gets her fella’s interest by playing the piano in a restaurant. Although IMDb says Saoirse took a 12-week crash course in piano lessons, her fingers match the notes played like the lip-synching in a 1960’s chop-socky movie.
Mom hit the jackpot as her “client” Noel has inherited a hotel, the titular Byzantium, which will make quite the brothel. She introduces Eleanor as her sister. Woohoo! In most guy’s minds, that would have also suggested a jackpot. Noel doesn’t seem to be the horniest bulb on the tree, though.
Eleanor gives her new boyfriend Frank one of her biographical manuscripts. He reads it and gives it to their teacher. The teacher and a counselor are impressed by the story and the way it is written. Such intelligent, independent thought can’t be tolerated in school, so they try to “save” her. Which does not work out well.
Throughout the film, there are frequent flashbacks to the Napoleonic Wars which show how Mom got into “the business”, and how the she and Eleanor became vampires. Sadly, in those unenlightened days, girls were not allowed to join the vampire union. The Brotherhood tolerates Mom’s existence only until she “breaks the code” by turning Eleanor into a vampire to save her life after being raped by a syphilitic soldier. She also killed “one of their own” which does not sit well with the Brotherhood.
Also throughout the movie, two men from the Brotherhood have been searching for our vampires. Finally, they meet up with Eleanor and the school counselor. The pace in the last 15 minutes really accelerates, and is satisfying on all levels.
Byzantium is a slow, deliberate movie, but in a good way. This pace is helped immensely by a great score. If it had been written by the guy who worked on The Nurse, this film could have been deadly. It looks great, but none of the performances blew me away. Eleanor’s boyfriend Frank was probably the stand-out.
I rate it a 8.
- Written by Moira Buffini, who sounds like a French vampire slayer.
- Vampire tropes: Fangs (OK, a talon in this case), feeding on blood, enhanced strength, immortality, must be invited into a home. However, they can walk in sunlight, do appear in mirrors, and are not room temperature (unless Mom slices their head off).
- On at least two occasions, Eleanor actually tastes Frank’s blood, or nicks him and is tempted. With him having leukemia, wouldn’t that be a problem? I guess immortality trumps a mere blood disease.
- Eleanor is attending college at 16 — what is she a genius? Uh, wait, she is really over 200 years old — talk about a slow-learner. Did she she take the short-carriage to school?
- Features two actors who had significant recurring roles in Season 5 of Dexter. Seems unlikely for that to be 1) coincidence, or 2) interesting to anyone except me.
- Maybe the first time the two leads of an English language movie completely failed the spell-check: Gemma, Arterton, Saoirse, Ronan.
- Pronounced Jemma and Sir-sha.
- €100 = $135.