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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Vampires

Yesterday, I finally managed to get along to the Sci-Fi London festival to see Vampires, which, in the best tradition of science fiction or horror or fantasy films, was a film about vampires which you quite quickly wasn't about vampires at all. From the opening, where the captions describe the grisly fate of the first two film crews sent to document the lives of the vampire community of Belgium, then the awkwardness of the third attempt where a man who looks like a pasty-faced relic from Nosferatu opens the door and says he's not used to talking to his food, you're reminded that, unlike in Twilight or even True Blood, they don't think or act quite like us.

As the film unfolds in its false-documentary style, we follow a household of vampires where a couple tend to their eternally rebellious "son" and depressed teenage "daughter" who is the inverse of the usual emo kid and although she keeps hanging herself and trying to end her life, she wants to die as a human would and, to her parents' disgust, apes human ways, wearing bronzer and even pink clothes. In the cellar, they house a traditional vampire couple who have taken no new vampires of their own, so, under the Vampire Code, are not permitted a house of their own.

Quite quickly, as I say, you realise how it's not a vampire film, but a really quite wonderful allegory for the difficulty of living as a community of outsiders in cramped living conditions in a country which doesn't understand or accept your ways, even if a surprising number of humans know of the vampires' existence and co-operate with their brutal, strange and sometimes farcical ways. There's some really heartbreaking moments where you're reminded of the harsh treatment of closed communities subjected to their own laws as they struggle to maintain their traditions in a changing world and as they have to deal with their fears that their children will grow up not understanding their ancient ways.

For a film that's superficially comical and drew comparisons with mockumentaries like Spinal Tap, there's a lot more going on with Vampires than that. Also, because it's set in Belgium, there's the rather superb advantage that the French they speak is slow and someone like me with rusty schoolboy French can actually follow quite a lot of it without relying too heavily on the subtitles.

I know it's a bit rubbish of me to go and see a film at a festival and then say you have to find it and see it, when I've no idea where it'll be shown again, but in the midst of all the teenage masturbatory fantasies and celibacy dogma we're having forced down our throats like pointy, needle sharp fangs at the moment, it was really quite wonderful to be reminded that storytelling can be subtler, socially and psychologically conscious and slower than all that. Also, where's the fun in vampires if you don't have to hunt for them?

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