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|Directed by||Michael Almereyda|
|Produced by||Mary Sweeney
|Written by||Michael Almereyda|
|Music by||Simon Fisher Turner|
|Edited by||David Leonard|
|Distributed by||October Films|
Nadja is a 1994 film directed by Michael Almereyda starring Elina Löwensohn as Nadja and Peter Fonda as Van Helsing. As the character's names suggest, Nadja is a vampire film, but treating elements of the genre in an understated arthouse style.
Count Voivoide Arminius Chousescu Dracula dies with a stake in his heart,and his daughter Nadja (Elina Löwensohn) shows up to claim the body, hoping that his death will free her from the life her father has forced on her. She has the body cremated and prepares to take the ashes to Brooklyn and pay a visit to her twin brother Edgar whom she hasn't seen for a long time. Before she leaves, however, she stops for a drink and meets Lucy. Lucy is also feeling a sense of emptiness, so she takes Nadja home. They appear to cheer each other up, and they wind up having sex together.
So, who killed Dracula? Van Helsing (Peter Fonda), of course. And Helsing's nephew Jim, who also happens to be Lucy's husband, has to bail him out of jail. Helsing knows that, if Dracula's body is not destroyed properly, he'll be back. When Helsing learns that Dracula's body has been removed from the morgue, he enlists Jim's help.
Meanwhile, Nadja goes to visit Edgar and meets his nurse and live-in lover Cassandra. Edgar is sick. Nadja persuades Cassandra to move Edgar to her apartment where she can help him by transfusing him with plasma from the blood of shark embryoes, which is what Nadja uses to stay healthy. Edgar revives enough to drink some of Nadja's blood. However, Lucy has fallen under Nadja's mesmerism. She leads both Jim and Van Helsing to Edgar's house where Nadja is staying with her renfield. Edgar awakens long enough to warn Cassandra to leave the house, as she is in danger. Cassandra, who just happens to be Van Helsing's daughter, attempts to escape, with Nadja pursuing her, Lucy pursuing Nadja, and Jim pursuing Lucy. Cassandra runs into a gas station where it looks like two burly mechanics are going to protect her, but Nadja mesmerizes them and kills one of them. The other one shoots Nadja in the abdomen.
Edgar is improving. He unites with the Helsings to stop Nadja. He receives a "psychic fax" from Nadja, telling him that she is injured and must return to Transylvania. She also mentions that she's taking Cassandra with her, so Edgar and the Helsings high-tail it to Transylvania, too. As they approach the castle, Nadja begins a transfusion of Cassandra's blood while Cassandra sleeps. While Jim fights with Nadja's renfield, Edgar and Helsing drive a stake through Nadja's heart. Lucy is released, Nadja is destroyed, and Cassandra wakes up. However, not all is as it seems. Nadja narrates the epilogue: "They cut off my head...burned my body...no one knew...no one suspected that I was now alive in Cassandra's body. Edgar and I were married at City Hall...there *is* a better way to live."
The deadpan acting, episodic nature of the plot, and the presence of Martin Donovan and Löwensohn are suggestive of a Hal Hartley film though he was not involved in the production. The Chicago Review called it "Hal Hartley meets David Lynch". The style of the film changes from dramatic horror to horror comedy by the end as evidenced by the laughing vampire toy during a trip to Romania.
The film is shot in black and white by Jim Denault mostly at night in Manhattan and Brooklyn, including use of the PXL-2000, and is underscored by an incessantly creepy, dreamlike score/soundscape by Simon Fisher Turner as well as the songs "Soon" and "Lose My Breath" by My Bloody Valentine and "Strangers" and "Roads" by Portishead.
- Peter Fonda as Van Helsing
- Suzy Amis as Cassandra
- Galaxy Craze as Lucy
- Martin Donovan as Jim
- Jared Harris as Edgar
- Karl Geary as Renfield
- Elina Löwensohn as Nadja
- David Lynch (also Executive producer) as morgue attendant (cameo)
Reviewing the film in 1995, Roger Ebert gave the film 2 and a half out of four stars. . He wrote of the film: "None of this is played for laughs - exactly. "Nadja," written and directed by Michael Almereyda, is an example of a genre we can call Deadpan Noir. It's the kind of movie that deals with unspeakable subjects while keeping a certain ironic distance, and using dialogue that seems funny, although the characters never seem in on the joke. David Lynch (who appears in "Nadja" as a morgue attendant) practiced this genre in films like "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart," and Hal Hartley's films are also in a similar style (both Lowensohn and Donovan are veterans of his movies).
Deadpan Noir wants to work in a commercial vein, but at arm's length. "Nadja" wants to be a vampire movie for those who insist on one, and a sly parody for those in the know. Sophisticated viewers know they're not supposed to care about the characters or stories; the whole point is to see the director demonstrating how he's superior to the material. Yet they depend on the traditions of, say, the vampire genre for characters, dialogue and atmosphere; they're like guests at a party who keep saying, "I can't believe I'm really here," and yet hold out their glasses for a refill.
What Almereyda brings to the film is good control of tone (the movie is ironic, and yet sad about its irony) and an interesting visual style. "Nadja" is filmed in black and white, which is always the best choice for a vampire film, since blood has a way of looking too real in color. Parts of the film were shot with a Pixelvision camera, a primitive video toy that's used as a vampire's-eye-view, as if vampires, like flies, had faceted eyes. It all sort of works, although probably not for general audiences. To really enjoy "Nadja," you have to know what Almereyda is doing: The film's like a jazz improvisation that wouldn't mean much if you didn't know the original song."
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