Saturday, July 16, 2011

Vamp or Not? The Praying Mantis

One of the great things about the vampire genre is that there are a lot of friendly genre fans and many are more than willing to share the knowledge of their finds with you. Halek let me know about this film from Belgium that was directed by Marc Levie and released in 2004.

It was mentioned with the caveat that if anything it was an energy vampire and so, if you discount such from the genre you may as well look away now. However we should remember that the genre was fluid, lore wise, with regards vampires being blood drinkers or energy eaters for quite some time. Indeed some genre pieces use blood as the conduit to devour the life energy rather than the actual food source itself.

first meeting
This film is also rather surreal and quite beautiful in places. It begins with a narration by Julien (Yann Chely) and he tells us how he met a girl, Sylvia (Lou Broclain), when he was in the south – at least he thinks it was the south – and how she came north with him. He meets her by a field, in the rain and she gives him flowers. Very much this loss of orientation indicates an otherworldly meeting. He builds her a (rather impressive looking) greenhouse.

Yann Chely as Julien
Things start to become odd in their lives. Julien is a cellist and he finds her in the greenhouse and she has not got ready for a concert that night, she doesn’t want to go. He eventually persuades her to. That night, in bed, their tryst ends as her mood swings to black. He wonders if she is thinking of home but she says no, there is too much sun there.

touching the dove
As it happens, where they live there is a heat wave. Julien goes to a café, where he plays for the diners, as she stays at home. She touches a dove but there is an explosion of light as it flies away and she, overwhelmed by the sun, goes into the cellar. There she sits and lets a spider crawl over her face. We see images of a pupae, pulsating and memories, it would seem, of her strangling someone. What does this mean… that she is overwhelmed by the sun seems somewhat vampiric and the fact that there seems to be a reaction on touching a dove (a metaphor for purity) and the spider likes her (and they are often described as base creatures) would seem significant.

Lou Broclain as Sylvia
Julien drives home, buzzed by local daredevil, womaniser and n’er-do-well Patrick (Sasa Nikolic) who is on his bike. He gets home and finds Sylvia in the cellar and takes her for a forest walk. A guard dog jumps a fence and attacks them but she catches it by the neck and squeezes until it submits, dominated by her. She tells Julien that it only wanted to play and that she made the dog love her, just as she has made him love her. After seeing Patrick at a quarry, hoping to jump it on his bike and being frustrated in his ambition by his girlfriend Claudine (Adèle Jacques), we cut to frustration in bed for Julien as Sylvia tries to throttle him during sex and then stops herself, also stopping the coitus.

Against his better judgement he goes out the next day and she goes for a walk. She sees Patrick on the roof of a house he is helping to build. He skylarks, falls, pretends to be hurt and then pursues her. Her fleeing almost seems false and she leads him to her home. She prevents him gaining entrance but he gets through an attic window. Her refusal is a dance, and he (blindfolded by his own hat) is both encouraged and teased in what is, without doubt, a mating dance. Julien gets home during this and finds them naked together. He goes to punch Patrick, but Sylvia gets in the way and so he slaps her instead, bloodying her nose. She orders him away.

dancing with fireflies
He goes to his friend’s home. Sylvia phones Jean (Serge Swysen) and tells him to tell Julien she loves him and yet, as she says this, we see that Patrick is still there. Julien heads south to discover the truth. It is here that we see things are temporally messed up. During his sojourn we see her try to throttle Patrick and it clearly is the memory she had earlier, this – and the fact that Patrick sees a death mask projected over her face at one point – freaks Patrick out. As does the fact that the ivy in the greenhouse can grab him, it seems, and she can dance (in a way) with fireflies. Julien finds his own corpse and realises that she needs a mate to feed upon. When Patrick refuses her (freaked out as he is) she seems to wilt and, as she refuses Julien because she loves him, he tries to find a mate for her. Patrick, however, is already caught in her siren’s web.

For there are many aspects to this and her being a Siren does seem an aspect. She seems at one with nature in some respects – certainly plant life – and also seems to be akin to dryads or maybe nymphs. We see, eventually, that the pupae or cocoon contained her. She feeds by throttling her victim during coitus – in folklore many vampires actually throttled their victims rather than suck their blood – and her eyes change colour. When she does eventually feed we get a repeat of the mating dance, in the background, as Julien plays his cello in the foreground and snow falls (remember this is in a heat wave). Julien, when searching for answers seems to step back in time and then forward to his own demise and there is an indication of much wider temporal displacement at the end of the film; such temporal displacement has a suggestion of faery, especially when coupled with the geographic issues, ie Julien thinking he met her in the south but not being sure.

There is a raft of influences here and it is clearly not a typical vampire film. It does, however, feature feeding on energy. Whilst this is during coitus, she appears to be a creature of nature rather than something demonic like a succubus. This falls into the wider arena of vampire films by dint of the energy vampire aspects.

The IMDb page is here.


Anonymous said...

"more than willing to share the knowledge of their finds with you."

Happy to do so, and of course you and Leila are in a class of your own!

Praying Mantis is a wonderful example of siren/succubus/femme fatale archetype which overlaps with the vampire genre and includes non-vamp fare like Night Tide and Spellbinder. The greenhouse, fireflies, spider, and pupae make parts of Praying Mantis a fecund fantasia of naturalism reminiscent of the movie Angels & Insects. Vampirism, cryptic states, and rebirth are all around us in nature.

Le Vampire by Jean Painlevé

By the way, I hope that you don't mind me linking to your review of the first Twilight book. I simply wanted to provide a couple of examples of serious genre fans/critics who don't categorically despise Twilight.

Perhaps I've taken IDW Publishing's little publicity stunt a bit too seriously.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to sign again - sorry!


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Halek, I'm aware of the Jean Painlevé film and you are right - the idea of vampire naturalism is all around us.

I don't mind being linked at all. One can't help but think that Niles/IDWs publicity stunt came out of 30 Days and Twilight being inextricably linked through David Slade - and his poor action direction! Perhaps that is what led to the publicity stunt?