Due to the lack of promotion for “Byzantium” (I suppose all those videos of Saoirse talking about “The Host” set the bar a bit too high), we’ve been looking for anything new on the movie and its release around the world. With the exception of a few great reviews, nothing has come up. Cleveland‘s review is probably one of the most complete I’ve read so far, so I thought you guys might like it as well. There are no spoilers.
Clara is a feisty, flirtatious, alluring woman. Heavy on eye makeup, push-up bras and attitude, she knows how to manipulate men and make money with her looks. She is also a “soucriant,” a kind of vampire-hybrid. Daylight does not upset her and she has no noticeable fangs, though she feasts on human blood and has lived for centuries.
Clara, played by Gemma Arterton, is a real kick in the head. But despite her intensity and murderous streak, she is not even the most interesting character in Neil Jordan’s “Byzantium.” That would be Eleanor, Clara’s compatriot in blood. More thoughtful and reflective, Eleanor, played by Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement,” “The Lovely Bones”), writes down the history of her bizarre journey as the two women flutter from town to town.
“My story can never be told,” she notes in beautiful and precise handwriting. “I write it over and over. I write what I cannot speak — the truth.” She then tears the pages into bits and hurls them to the winds. Perhaps the birds will read her tale.
For Eleanor, Clara is a triple threat: “My savior, my burden, my muse.” Clara is the alpha, killing at will. Eleanor is more compassionate with her victims, even seeking out the terminally ill. They speak in a knowing shorthand. When Eleanor fears Clara is about to suck the life out of a new acquaintance, the exchange is brief.
Clara: “I won’t.”
“Byzantium” is by no means a typical vampire movie. While it veers towards horror with some brutal and bloody moments and provides fantastical flashbacks of how one becomes a vampire, it is more of a moody drama about the dynamics of the relationship between these two women.
Jordan, an Oscar-winner for “The Crying Game,” has delved into the blood-sucking realm before, with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in “Interview with a Vampire.” He once again garners rich turns from his main players, which include an uncredited Tom Hollander as a teacher and Sam Riley as a knowing vampire named Darvell, who explains to a thief asking to be forgiven, “Forgiveness is a Christian value. My gods are older — more ruthless.”
“Byzantium” was written by Moira Buffini and is based on her play “A Vampire Story.” Her previous film scripts include adaptations of “Tamara Drewe” (also starring Arterton) and the most recent “Jane Eyre.” Clara and Eleanor’s wanderings eventually land them in a sleepy, seaside town in England at a run-down hotel called Byzantium. Eleanor falls for a young man (Caleb Landry Jones), which further complicates the questions of survival and immortality, while Clara runs afoul of some old enemies. “Byzantium” has an intriguing look and tone. Director of photography Sean Bobbitt (“Hunger”) often bathes it in the muted mist of natural lighting, while composer Javier Navarrete’s score mixes with plaintive piano interludes and some occasional Etta James.
Eleanor’s spiritual and intellectual evolution is at odds with Clara’s more thunderous eruptions. It’s deep waters vs. the crashing surf. Both women deliver terrific performances. Ronan is especially captivating in a quiet way, bearing the tormented weight of her long-held secrets. As Eleanor, she manages to display an emotion we don’t often see from vampires: guilt.