(1994 exec prod: David Lynch; dir/scp: Michael Almereyda; cast: Elina Lvwensohn,
Karl Geary, Peter Fonda, Martin Donovan, Galaxy Craze, David Lynch, Suzy
Amis, Jared Harris)
Nadja is a difficult film to review, if reviews are meant to guide others, partly
because others' reactions will vary wildly. Cinephiles and Goths
may regard Nadja as a profound masterpiece, whereas Fangorians might think it turgid crud.
plot is a lethargic (some would say moody) retelling of the Dracula tale in contemporary Manhattan. Lvwensohn stars as Nadja Dracul,
Dracula's daughter. Early in the film, Nadja senses Van Helsing destroy
Dracula, both roles played by a long-haired but balding Peter Fonda. In effect, Fonda "kills himself." I don't know what this is meant
to symbolize, if anything, but throughout most of the film Fonda plays
Van Helsing, as Dracula is now truly dead (except in flashbacks).
are flashbacks aplenty. Every film school/art house gimmick is on
display. The black & white photography is variously beautiful,
rich, stark, stunning, moody, sumptuous, smoky, blurry -- everything an
Anne Rice fan on acid could desire. Images are framed from every
conceivable angle. Rainwater drips on the camera lens. Some
scenes are shot with a toy Pixelvision video camera. (Yes, there
are slow motion shots.)
features diverse musical styles and discordant nondiegetic noises, sometimes
fading in and out, sometimes cutting in and out with jarring abruptness. The black & white photography, discordant noises, and languid pace
all evoke David Lynch's Eraserhead. (Yes, there are voiceovers.)
begins one voiceover amid sound effects while in her castle. We cut
to events outside, and although her voiceover continues seamlessly, all
else is silenced. Moments later, the sound effects fade back up. No real reason for this audio gimmickry, but some viewers may think it
eerie. Some may even regard it profound.
sounds like I'm reviewing form rather than content, it's because Nadja is about style rather than substance. This film is to be watched
rather than understood. Its story is as disjointed as its editing. (Yes, there are jump cuts.)
flitter about aimlessly; only Van Helsing is consistently driven. Van Helsing destroys Dracula, then wants to destroy Nadja. He enlists
Jim (Martin Donovan), who's sort of married to the boyish Lucy (Galaxy
Craze), who is seduced by Nadja. (Lucy, as in Stoker's Dracula -- get it?) There's also a Renfield (Karl Geary), Nadja's "slave." Nadja also wants to nurse her non-vampire brother with blood plasma. Instead, Nadja seduces his lover/nurse Cassandra (Suzy Amis, of Titanic). (Yes, there are lesbian vampire sex scenes.)
Nadja is burdened with flashbacks and jump cuts and torpid pacing and vapid dialogue,
obfuscating a thin story. Many will be too bored to prune away all
the pretty padding and make an effort to follow the story. Nonsense
lines abound, often spoken in a monotone, Hal
Hartley style. Jim stares blankly at Lucy while he expounds his
love for her to Van Helsing. Lucy responds: "Tuesday I ate two
diet cokes and a bit of pizza. Today I had some M&Ms." She's under Nadja's spell, but she's not all that different for it.
Her conversations with Jim are both fatalistic and trite. (Yes, there's
enough fatalism and pessimism and gloom in this film to delight a whole
mausoleum-ful of Goths.)
ends in Nadja's Transylvanian castle, which looks like an abandoned New
Jersey tenement; the walls are brick rather than large cut stone. That's okay, it's an old low-budget trick. And the tracking shot
of a Rumanian map is a stylishly nostalgic manner in which to depict the
characters' travels. Goths especially will love the darkly draped
bed Nadja shares with Cassandra.
is a "surprise twist" ending, but I saw it coming. So should anyone
who is familiar with Roger Vadim's Blood
and Roses (a retelling of Carmilla,
and a far better film). Since Nadja features a female vampire, one may argue that it too is informed by Carmilla rather than Dracula,
but Nadja's character names are lifted from Stoker's novel, not Le Fanu's.
are some trendy modern themes. Nadja laments her dysfunctional family. Seems Dracula was a lousy dad. That, and the gender-bender lesbian
sex, the long-haired puffy-shirted men, the vapid philosophizing that sounds
profound if you don't think about it, and a film textbook's worth of cinematic
stylistics, makes for a film that many an Anne Rice fan could stare at
for endless hours, imagining that they were watching some insightful statement
on transcendent love, or whatever. Others will be screaming: "Get
on with it!"
story could easily have been compressed into a half hour short, resulting
in a quicker pace without losing any substance. Its lavish stylistics
are impressive, but its slight story, silly dialogue, lack of philosophical
insight, and lethargic pace are a drag on the film. Nadja will enthrall some, bore others. I presume you, dear reader, know
which camp you're likely to fall into.
Review copyright by Thomas
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