Saturday, November 05, 2011

Vampires (2010) – review

Director: Vincent Lannoo

Release date: 2010

Contains spoilers

The UK DVD of Belgian film vampires happened to land on my doorstep the day before I was due to travel to the 2011 Bram Stoker International Film Festival. I knew the film was showing at the festival and so I avoided watching it until I got to see it on the big screen.

In some respects the film doesn’t actually need that big screen treatment – it is a mockumentary that begins with the first two failed attempts to integrate a film crew into the Belgian Vampire Community, but I am glad I got the opportunity to see it on the big screen nevertheless. Being a mockumentary and being Belgian it has been compared (within the DVD blurb, no less) to the film Man Bites Dog. Man Bites Dog is a stunning piece of black humoured cinema that still challenges me as a viewer. To be fair this is not of the same calibre and it would be wrong to suggest so, however it is a genuinely funny piece of black comedy.

Fleur Lise Heuet as Grace
The film crew spend their time with a vampire family. The father is Georges (Carlo Ferrante) and he turned his wife Bertha (Vera Van Dooren), their children are Samson (Pierre Lognay) and Grace (Fleur Lise Heuet). Vampire society (in Belgium at least) suggests that vampires are provided houses and food via their social structures. The families with children are given houses – despite the size of the house, the whole family sleep (in their coffins) in the same room, and the vampire sexuality is more open than that of a human family. Indeed, as their actual relationships are born out of turning there is a distinctly incestuous undertone.

the Meat brings mugs of blood
Also living in the house is the Meat. She lives in the refrigerator and is a human not slaughtered for her blood but savoured and fed various foodstuffs to enhance her taste. She was a prostitute and sees little difference in what she does for the family. She also deals with modern contrivances that are beyond the vampires and prepares warm blood as a wake-up drink. At one point (on a necessary trip to the UK) she takes the role of travelling companion.

Elizabeth lives in the basement
Living in the basement are the neighbours. Vampire family units such as Elizabeth and Bienvenu (Batiste Sornin), who do not have children, are not granted houses and must live in the basements of a family. There is a clear snobbery from both parties. Georges doesn’t even register the neighbours and they feel themselves superior to the family. There is rivalry that is often covered by a set of rules called the code (allegedly developed by Dracula himself).

suicide attempt
The vampires themselves are unable to withstand sunlight or garlic; they are disturbed by the cross and to call a vampire "priest" is a grave insult. Grace wishes to be human, wears pink (and, in an indulgence, is given a pink coffin for her death day). She regularly tries to commit suicide but in ways that would kill a human (she never tries walking into the sunlight for instance) as she wants to die like a human. If a vampire is not turned with a bite that contains enough passion for eternity they might become human again eventually.

Samson feeds
They have a school – where they develop cruelty – which is a human school through the day and they are controlled by a leader – Little Heart. Whilst the vampires' sexuality is very open generally there is an exception, and it is the leader’s woman, Eva (Alexandra Kamp-Groeneveld), who is absolutely off limits – something that might cause a problem within the film… hint, hint… The vampires clearly dislike humans, thinking of them only as foodstuff, but there is also an underlying racism in the film (the police provide them with illegal immigrants and Georges complains of the colour of his skin, as does Grace) but the comments are telling, illuminating of a social issue and of a black comedy level.

Batiste Sornin as Bienvenu
The film is genuinely funny. From the antics of Bertha as she steals a boom mike cover to the more dark humour. It is also a film where repeated watches reveal more and more that was not noticed in previous viewings (the fact that Bienvenu is talking to the crew with a drink in front of him that has been infused from a tampon was not noticed in the first viewing, for instance). However it is not nearly as shocking as something like Man Bites Dog and its overarching story works well but is ultimately thin.

That said, it is a film worth seeing. 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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