May 7, 2012
After many years of passively searching, I have finally discovered an experimental postmodern vampire flick that does not compel me to fantasize about breaking the jaws and eye-sockets of bearded hipster fags with pseudo-sophisticated black-rimmed poindexter glasses. Executive produced and presented by David Lynch (who also appears in the film in a cameo role as a morgue receptionist), Nadja (1994) is a work that many falsely believe was ghost-directed by no other than the Eraserhead auteur himself. With its excessive phantasmagorical imagery and sometimes schlocky experimental camera work (pre-dating Inland Empire by over a decade), it is not hard to fathom why one would assume Nadja was directed by tastefully loony Lynch, but for anyone who has seen Michael Almereyda’s previous efforts Twister (1989) and Another Girl Another Planet (1992), it should be plain to see that the underrated American auteur filmmaker’s metaphysical fingerprints are all over this wildly idiosyncratic vampire flick. Beginning his career in film as a screenwriter, Almereyda wrote a screenplays for the post-apocalyptic Scifi cult flick Cherry 2000 (1987), Wim Wenders' Scifi epic Until the End of the World (1991) and an unreleased David Lynch project before ever having the supreme dictatorial honor of sitting in the director's chair. Starring the beautiful Romanian Jewess Elina Löwensohn (the sole Hebrewess that I would bequeath such an unbecoming compliment to) in the starring vamp role and WASP wimp Martin Donovan as a beta-male boxer with female trouble, Nadja also has the situational semblance of a Hal Hartley film, had the Henry Fool (1997) director digested an equal amount of Bram Stoker and George Sylvester Viereck (The House of the Vampire certainly comes to mind) with his readings of Jean-Paul Sartre as a young man. Shot on rich black-and-white neo-noir-ish celluloid for scenes of melodrama and traditional horror, and a children’s toy Fisher-Price Pixelvision camera for segments of inter-species lesbian sex and blotchy bloody murder, Nadja is surely a neo-gothic trip of sorts that offers an onliest sensory overload without the aesthetic advantage of an Argento-esque kaleidoscope of killer colors. Indeed, most people associate blood with the color red, yet the absence-of-color hemoglobin featured in Nadja is more than suitably potent as it takes on a fetishistic ejaculatory quality that acts as the main part and parcel for determining the dichotomous struggle between lust and love, impotency and vitality, and – ultimately – life and death.
Admittedly, I had to watch Nadja three or four times before I could soak up the integral plangency of the film’s storyline and various subplots. Like the films of Guy Maddin, Nadja features a weird and wayward thunderstorm of aesthetic and thematic wankery that is indubitably reflective of the filmmaker’s encyclopedic understanding of vampire film history, but unlike most films by the goofy Nordic Canadian director – when one examines the quality and flow of the work as a whole – it is quite apparent that Michael Almereyda is largely successful with his lucid and luscious cinematic love letter to the vampire subgenre. Nadja focuses on a wealthy yet patently dysfunctional bi-species vampire family (the human matriarch of the family died long ago after giving birth to her two mongrel children) from Romania that is currently living a life of cosmopolitan and hedonistic degeneracy abroad in modern day New York City. As she explains during the beginning of the film, Nadja adores NYC because it offers a vibrant nightlife that is nonexistent in most European metropolitan areas. After Dr. Van Helsing (played by Peter Fonda) kills the patriarch (also played by Fonda) of the already decomposing Dracula family, two fraternal twins squabble over the dubious fate of their family’s mostly infamous legacy. Nadja, being an uncompromising and ferocious femme fatale of the entrancing bloodsucking kind, would like to see the family reinvent itself, but her passive brother Edgar (played by Jared Harris) – who is barely a vampire (he feeds off of exotic shark embryos instead of human blood) and is in love with a mere mortal – rather see the irrevocable extinction of the more-than-human half of his peculiar pedigree. After his girlfriend Lucy (played by Galaxy Craze) is put under the all-consuming spell of undead lesbo Nadja, archetypical beta-male Jim and his notably nimble Uncle Dr. Van Helsing chase the virulent vampiress half-way around the world with the central goal of driving a wooden stake through her exceedingly cold-heart, thus freeing the souls of the she-beast's victims. Naturally, Van Helsing and his cowardly nephew prove to be a pathetic match for cunning creature Nadja’s nefarious supernatural powers, but fortuitously for them, she is a true blue quasi-suicidal Goth girl at heart with an impenetrable desire for tragic transcendence and total rebirth. If you think the average premenstrual female is hopelessly erratic and wholly intolerable, you have yet to see blood-addict Nadja after she has been drained of her vital bodily fluids.
I must admit that I never expected to see a vampire film containing songs by Irish alpha-shoegaze group My Bloody Valentine, but Nadja does indeed offers such a delectable and unrestrained diacritic aesthetic mix. A scene of Bela Lugosi from Victor Halperin’s White Zombie (1932) also appears in the film as a nostalgic flashback of young Dracula during his prime. A number of scenes also pay blatant tribute to the ruined Eastern European castles of F.W. Murnau’s vampire masterpiece Nosferatu (1922). These sorts of anachronistic ingredients contribute to a film that, although shamelessly postmodern and ardently artsy, is not the least bit pretentious, but it is surely a work for those individuals that are obscenely vampire-film-literate. Of course, Nadja is not the sort of film I would recommend to people who masturbate to ultra-sleazy softcore lesbian vampire flicks, even if it does feature an intensely pulchritudinous, carpet-munching cold-cunt bloodsucker. Nadja is also ultimately a work that poses sensible questions about life and death in a steadily deteriorating post-industrial and pre-apocalyptic world, but not in the superlatively mundane and emotionally barren my-name-is-Sofia-Coppola-and-my-bourgeois-life-is-unchallenging-and-I-want-to-die sort of way. After all, who would make a more suitable existentialist philosopher than a singularly worldly, ancient aristocratic vampire? Forget manic-depressive Maddin's uneven (yet admittedly ambitious) undead-Chinaman-ballet Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (2002) and instead bask in the beauteous beaming bright white light of Elina Löwensohn's immaculate pale skin in Nadja. Nadja gets more pussy than pretty boy Edward Cullen, yet only puts forth about 1/100th of the effort to do so, which is beyond a shadow of a doubt the hallmark of a truly hip yet classic strigoi creature.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:52 PM
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