Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Neil Jordan skilfully examines the nature of time and the theme that he surveys like no other filmmaker - what it means to physically be in two places at once."

As he has done before, Neil Jordan skilfully examines the nature of time and the theme that he surveys like no other filmmaker - what it means to physically be in two places at once.

In Byzantium, Jordan's discerning vampire saga, he gives us blood red waterfalls on a stormy island that in disposition resembles Arnold Böcklin's painting of the Isle of the Dead or a creation by Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy of a bright red stream by using the native flora and hardened earth.

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"My story can never be told," we hear in voice-over as we see Saoirse Ronan's merciful searcher Eleanor write. She says, that she will "throw the pages to the wind" so that "maybe the birds can read it". Sounds like a metaphor, but this is a Neil Jordan movie and she does exactly that. The window is of a run down high rise in the projects, somewhere poor and hopeless. The flocks of birds are integral to the transformation into immortality.

The vilest of men have been in power for centuries and "the brotherhood is strong".

In Byzantium, Sam Riley gives a fine-drawn, burning performance as Darvell, who saw it all since, as Eleanor says "my mother was one of those children, barefoot in the sand".

Neil Jordan uses flickering red lights that turn out to actually belong to the red light district, where Clara, played with many garters and a lot of running in professionally provocative attire by Gemma Arterton, works. A chase scene across the roof tops and into an inflatable children's playground is wasted early on in the movie, because we aren't invested in the characters, as yet. Screenwriter Moira Buffini, who adapted her own 2008 young adult play A Vampire Story, stumbles with the start of the tale and gains more and more footing the further we travel along.

Clara encounters Noel (Daniel Mays), a possible bloated reincarnation of Norman Bates, and invites herself to stay at the seaside guesthouse he now runs for his dead mother. Caleb Landry Jones, as Frank, befriends Eleanor and their teacher (Tom Hollander), who gives nosy assignments (a bit like Fabrice Luchini's writing teacher in François Ozon's In The House) and finds out more than he can handle.

On the other hand, Jordan is capable of arousing interest fast, as he does with an old man, who shows Eleanor a photo album with pictures of the love of his life - who was married to his brother. The comment is an aside, as the film breathes life into people's shadows even when they leave the story after a few short moments. Some of the cosiest and strangely comforting images are scenes of flaming abodes, with the arsonists walking away, lit from the blaze behind them. Why? Burning bridges, or "burning your boats", as the writer Angela Carter would say, must be especially rewarding for the undead, the sanguivores, who gambled for eternal life.

In Byzantium, encountering yourself marks the end of time. Eleanor, who sees herself throughout two centuries, and practiced the piano for this timespan, too, has developed a conscience, unlike some of the male figures, whose narcissism and cruelty rules the world. In his novel Sunrise With Sea Monster, Neil Jordan recorded: "And death, he told me, is the realisation of all those lost possibilities in the life we have left. You see each of them as you walk, you see how if any one of them had been grasped, things could have been different."

Thus is the filmmaker's interest in the nature of vampires and eternal life that comes with a bloody price. His heroines Clara and Eleanor live among the abject of society, they are the angels of death in the brothels, the seaside carnival, the hotels for the old, the emergency rooms.

Time-travel folds, supernatural gifts, bonds, and rituals are bound to embark on invading the here and now.

Although "the story started with two soldiers", one with a pearl and one with a cursed profession as their gift, it unfolds around a mother and daughter.

As all fine Grimm fairy tales tell you, from Rapunzel to Hansel and Gretel, you cannot stay tied to your parents forever.

Reviewed on: 01 Apr 2013
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Byzantium packshot
Two vampires, mother and daughter, open a seaside bordello.
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Director: Neil Jordan

Writer: Moira Buffini

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Jonny Lee Miller, Sam Riley, Tom Hollander, Caleb Landry Jones

Year: 2012

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, US, Ireland

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