Byzantium Screen 14 articles



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  • The title, like the once luxurious building itself, is symbolic of a bygone empire, an idea that Jordan conveys with Grimm-like visual lucidity in striking wide shots that hone in on the rot that's taken over the boardwalks of Hastings, East Sussex like a cancer... Forlorn depictions of love and death may dignify Byzantium, but narrative withholding ultimately drives a stake into its unmistakable heart.

  • ...There’s the rub, for our narrative media right now and for Byzantium in particular, and the reason Jordan’s movie bored me silly. It’s essentially a YA novel... Jordan’s film isn’t technically targeted at “young adults...” But it’s a telling symptom of how perniciously and deeply the pandering, obsequious and outright foolish ideas at the heart of YA culture have invaded every corner of the greater culture.

  • Pace is lacking, but the visual and conceptual imagination - a secret waterfall where vampires are birthed, its waters running red with the blood of their human precursors - puts Twilight in the shade. Hard to ignore the fact that Gemma Arterton is a lightweight (even granted that she's playing the vampire-as-lusty-wench), but Saoirse Ronan retains a certain sprite-like uncanniness as she edges into her 20s.

  • There's a conviction here that's impossible to fake—Saoirse Ronan in particular plays her familiar role with startling intensity, as if unaware that it's old hat. I kept trying to resist, because the movie's fundamentally stupid, but was repeatedly surprised into a purely emotional response.

  • It is entirely possible to regard (and enjoy) Byzantium as a moody, melancholic monster movie with a more adult romantic core than could ever be found in Twilight. Yet strip the monsters away and what remains is an allegory for the undying legacy of exploitation, abuse and oppression perpetrated upon women by the vices of patriarchy.

  • Jordan is no stranger to tales of the supernatural, though here he grounds the fantastic elements in the melancholy grittiness of his recent modern-day mermaid fable, Ondine (2009), as opposed to the slick, star-power gloss of Interview with the Vampire (1994). Ashen atmosphere is paramount... while the performers create a memorable vision of a community on life support that is given a strange, sensual boost by these unearthly interlopers.

  • This piecemeal approach, in which a character’s essential qualities only emerge gradually from a succession of particulars, extends to most other aspects of Byzantium’s construction. Every moment in the movie seems designed to make you forget about the ones before and ignore the ones to come. Every image, every visual motif, every object, and every plot device intends to seize you completely, seduce you, envelop you...

  • Byzantium isn't Jordan's first movie about bloodsuckers—that would be 1994's Interview with the Vampire—but it's the right vampire movie for today, poetic and elegant in an artfully tattered way..

  • Constant flashbacks to their costume drama origins aren’t great for momentum, but “Byzantium” is consistently clever enough that that’s only marginally a problem. If “Interview With the Vampire” was overly heavy, “Byzantium” is light, even goofy, milking plenty out of the clash between old time mores and modern life.

  • When the daughter enrolls in a local high school, she takes interest in a classmate with leukemia and attempts to tell him her secret, presenting it in the form of a class essay. This development feels especially Jordanesque: sharing a story becomes an initiation rite into a dangerous unknown (which Jordan mirrors... in his gradual revelation of the 19th-century narrative). Yet it isn't clear why an old soul would identify with an adolescent... or continue to behave like a teenager herself.

  • If Byzantium descends into plot-driven excess during the final act, it manages to retain a haunting tonal identity despite some of the more reductive moments. Ronan and Arterton are superb at playing polar opposites forced to look past their youthful façades and recognize each other as old souls yearning to reconcile past indiscretions.

  • If Byzantium isn't quite as effective as prior Jordan gothics such as The Company of Wolves, In Dreams, or Ondine, it's because it's somewhat stymied by narrative convention in a manner those films managed to evade, but it's still empowered by the director's disarming command of tone and confidence with actors.

  • Again and again, as the story shifts between women, times and moods, Mr. Jordan adds a punctuating flourish — Clara and Eleanor traveling across a field at night, dwarfed by seemingly, magically, giant cabbages — that exquisitely illustrates the once-upon-a-time mood.

  • I find the entertainment industry's ongoing vampire gold rush... to be insipid, boring and ghoulish in a trivial way that's unique to folks who haven't experienced much real violence or loss: goth slumber party. What a pleasure it was, then, to be won over by this exquisite, lovely film, in which contemporary characters struggle to suspend their disbelief in vampire lore while Jordan's eye for formal beauty and truthful performances suspends ours.

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