Jim Jarmusch's vampire film 'Only Lovers Left Alive' joins Cannes competition

Posted by · 12:36 pm · April 26th, 2013

The all-star Competition lineup for next month’s Cannes Film Festival just got a little starrier. And sexier. “Only Lovers Left Alive,” a vampire romance from veteran independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, was one of the more surprising omissions when the Official Selection was unveiled last week: Jarmusch has a long history with Cannes, after all, and the film was widely assumed to be ready in time. What was the problem?

Nothing, as it turns out. Cannes usually adds one or two films to the lineup in the weeks following the initial announcement, and so “Only Lovers Left Alive” is this year’s fashionably late arrival to the Competition, brining the number of Palme d’Or contenders to a nice round 20. And we mean fashionable: with a cast led by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, this arthouse addition to the post-“Twilight” vampire craze looks to be one of the festival’s hottest red-carpet attractions.

For Hiddleston, after his star-making stint as Marvel villain Loki in “Thor” and “The Avengers,” this marks a return to his arthouse roots. He replaced Michael Fassbender to take the role of an underground musician and vampire whose relationship with his lover of several centuries (Tilda Swinton) is disrupted by the arrival of her uninhibited younger sister (Mia Wasikowska, fresh from her turn in another offbeat genre effort, “Stoker”). John Hurt, Anton Yelchin and Jeffrey Wright also star.

Jarmusch himself has described the film as a “crypto-vampire love story” — it sounds not altogether unlike Tony Scott’s “The Hunger,” though surely Swinton should be playing the Bowie role. Anyway, alongside Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives,” it promises to give a welcome kick of wild genre energy to the mostly sensible lineup. 

It’s Jarmusch’s first feature since 2009’s challengingly opaque “The Limits of Control,” which also starred Swinton. That film largely skipped the major festival circuit, but the 60-year-old director has been in Competition at Cannes five times before, most recently in 2005 with “Broken Flowers” (which, again, featured Swinton). That wistful romantic comedy (well, Jarmusch’s idea of one, anyway) won the Grand Prix; it’s the closest he’s ever come to the Palme d’Or. Could this be his year to go one better? I’ll examine the film’s chances in more detail when it comes up in our Cannes Check series.

Meanwhile, four films were added to the Official Selection outside Competition. “The Last of the Unjust,” the latest from veteran French documentarian Claude Lanzmann, is a high-profile addition to the out-of-competition slate. 87-year-old Lanzmann made the landmark Holocaust doc “Shoah,” and the new film returns to that subject, studying the relationship between Nazi executioner Adolf Eichmann and Jewish exile Benjamin Murmelstein. Clocking in at nearly four hours — a walk in the park next to “Shoah” — it’ll be one of the festival’s graver attractions.

Three films join the Un Certain Regard strand, bringing the total to 18. One of them I’m particularly pleased to see join the fray, not least since I listed it as one of the 10 films I was most hoping to see at the festival. (That means seven of my picks eventually made it there.) Kurdish auteur Hiner Saleem’s “My Sweet Pepper Land” (formerly titled “Aga”) has been described as Middle Eastern western of sorts, following a newly appointed police chief battling corruption in a post-Saddam democracy. Advance word is positive, even if the whisperings I’d heard about it being a potential Palme d’Or threat weren’t to be.

The other two are both from female directors: acclaimed German shorts director Katrin Gebbe makes her feature debut with “Rising,” while Argentina’s Lucia Puenzo, whose 2007 film “XXY” became an international arthouse hit after bowing in Critics’ Week, moves up the Cannes ladder with her latest, “Wakolda.”

At this point, the disparity in gender balance between Competition and Un Certain Regard cannot pass without comment. 8 of the 18 films in the latter — almost half the lineup — are female-directed, compared to just one of the 20 Competition films. Festival director Thierry Fremaux has said he regards the sections as equal, which doesn’t strike me as entirely convincing; if he really doesn’t see any difference in status between them, however, that’s one hell of a coincidental glass ceiling.

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