Relative newcomer Xan Cassavetes (Daughter of you-know-who) has made a picture with style to spare. The look of the Kiss Of The Damned is exquisite. It is tactile and spacious at the same time. There is such dark poetic grace to the breathless movement of this film, such uniqueness to its visualization of an insane reality, and yet such discretion with the tropes of a well-tread universe. Her vision is highly specific, full-bodied, and un-shy.
Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) is a screenwriter, Djuna (Josephine de la Baume) is a translator of literature and poetry. Paolo is human. Djuna is a Vampire. Something like fate draws them together, and soon Paolo is no longer human. Though Djuna fights against Paolo’s advances, she is worn by his persistence. When Djuna reveals her true form to Paolo, something within him quickly and quietly resolves to become like her. The artist in him craves a new scope of reality, but the feeling is more one of realization. Different from hindsight, Paolo accepts and understands the instinct that binds he and Djuna in the very moment she shows her fangs.
Cassavetes is reserved in her use of convention and exposition as Paolo learns his new world but unrestrained in her expression of violence and sensuality. It is exciting to learn alongside Paolo, in a passive way, the facets of Cassavetes’s decadent and self-aware Vampire society. Just when things feel like they are normalizing, Djuna’s sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) arrives for a visit. Mimi is chaos itself, she is a wrecking ball that swings freely only intending to tear down the architecture of the world, peoples efforts to control their own lives, and even endangers her own Vampire community. She hunts every night, embodying a singular wanton spirit of malevolence. A simple dramatic setup – the disruptive sultry third wheel – is made more nuanced through the execution of Mimi’s character, and the element of utter restraint in the characters of Djuna and Paolo. They’re honest desire is simply to be with one another and to live as simple and easeful a life as can be managed considering that they drink blood and never die. Their greatest challenge was simply finding one another. This of course is exactly the structure Mimi strives to dismantle.
Removed from the world of Vampires, what Cassavettes has drafted is a simply driven romantic character drama with the fewest number of people needed to make things interesting. Because of the distillation of the story and the characters, Kiss Of The Damned feels concentrated and vital, which is all the more effective because it has in part to do with a man-come-vampire feeling suddenly and truly vital, “heightened” as he describes it, in his awareness of living. The other great thing about a simple premise is the potential to rise above it, as Cassavettes does.
Though Kiss Of The Damned looks and feels quite modern, it is not placed in our specific “now.” This has a lot to do with what little temporal markers we are given, a cell phone here, a laptop there. Cassavetes has something more interesting afoot, an ambiguity of nowness and then-ness – which has everything to do with creatures that don’t age – rendered by a savvy score with vintage and modern qualities as well as cinematography that varies between innovative and studied. Its manners are quite classical, as is its dramatic center. Above all Kiss Of The Damned is a mood-centered drama with emotional intelligence. Make no mistakes, Kiss Of The Damned is a violent film, but that violence serves deliberate points of character, and so the other intelligence of the film is physical.
Now playing at the Ritz At The Bourse.