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NADJA

The “masterpiece” of American indie film darling Michael Almereyda, a highly evocative and idiosyncratic (read: pretentious) black and white reverie set in mid-1990s NYC, about a vampire seductress descended from a certain Count Dracula.

The Package
     1994’s NADJA follows Michael Almereyda’s little-seen ANOTHER GIRL, ANOTHER PLANET, a no-budgeter shot entirely in the Fisher-Price “Pixelvision” format. NADJA furthers Almereyda’s Pixelvision experimentation, and even features one of ANOTHER GIRL…’s cast members: the Romanian born Elina Lowensohn, who was coming off a small role in SCHINDLER’S LIST and supporting parts in the Hal Hartley films SIMPLE MEN and AMATEUR.
     NADJA is “presented” by David Lynch, whose input was reportedly limited to his name appearing above the title (and a brief cameo), and co-produced by Lynch’s longtime associate (and, for a time, wife) Mary Sweeney.
     Ironically, NADJA appeared around the same time as Abel Ferrara’s THE ADDICTION, another NYC-set black-and-white indie about a female vampire. NADJA is the stronger film, and also far outdoes later Almereyda features like THE ETERNAL, HAMLET and HAPPY HERE AND NOW. Furthermore, NADJA appears to have had a minor influence of its own: see the 2014 Iranaian offering A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, which is remarkably NADJA-esque.

The Story
     The seductive Nadja is a vampire living in New York City who spends her nights seducing random men and drinking their blood. Her life is thrown into turmoil after her father, who is none other than Count Dracula, dies. This inspires her to travel to Brooklyn to visit her estranged brother Edgar, but before doing so Nadja meets Lucy, a discontented young woman, in a bar. Nadja seduces Lucy and drinks her blood.
     What Nadja doesn’t realize is that Lucy is the niece of Dr. Van Helsing, an ex-hippie vampire hunter. He knows Dracula’s descendants are loose in the city, and enlists the aid of Lucy’s selfish husband Jim to track down the bloodsuckers.
     Nadja, meanwhile, meets up with Edgar, who is deathly ill, and living with Jim’s sister Cassandra. The vampirized Lucy, now fully under Nadja’s spell, finds herself drawn to Edgar’s apartment, with Jim and Van Helsing in hot pursuit. Things go haywire once Lucy, Jim and Van Helsing reach the apartment, with Cassandra running off and Nadja pursuing her to a gas station, which blows up.
     From there Nadja and her confidante, the young punk Renfield, jet off to her ancestral home in Transylvania. The good guys follow…

The Direction
     This film stands as a good primer on the pratfalls of hipster filmmaking, as back in the mid-nineties NADJA was indeed the hippest thing around, but these days it feels…well, like a product of the mid-nineties. Note the laughably dated grunge rock soundtrack and overall concern with “family values,” as well as the highly disaffected, vaguely campy tone. This may be the quintessential Generation X horror film--and, as anyone’s who’s tried to read the Douglas Coupland novel of that title or seen any of the decade’s many Gen-X skewering films (which include REALITY BITES, S.F.W. and just about any 90s movie that starred Eric Stoltz) can attest, that’s not a good thing!
     To be sure, there are some wonderfully evocative moments. Most occur near the beginning, which has a compelling sense of mystery and seduction. Unfortunately, things go downhill as the film advances, and grows littered with unmotivated fade-outs, dialogue like “is the Black Sea really black?,” and pretentious homages--or as the end credits term them, “respects to.”
     The title is one such “respect,” taken from Andre Breton’s classic surrealist text NADJA. There’s also a shot of Nadja in the foreground with a rear projection cityscape behind her that was lifted from Jean Cocteu’s ORPHEUS, and close-ups of a glowering Bela Lugosi in WHITE ZOMBIE that are used to flesh out Nadja’s parentage.
     The Pixelvision film stock, which renders images in fractured cubist form, comes into play periodically, apparently to depict a vampire’s consciousness (or perhaps because Pixelvision was hip at the time). Frankly, it doesn’t add much.
     Of the actors, the mysterious and seductive Elina Lowensohn delivers what is perhaps her most memorable performance ever in the title role, yet it’s Peter Fonda as the hippy-fied Van Helsing who is the true standout, bringing a welcome energy and enthusiasm to the otherwise highly labored proceedings.

 
Vital Statistics

NADJA
Kino Link Company

Director: Michael Almereyda
Producer: Mary Sweeney, Amy Hobby
Screenplay: Michael Almereyda
Cinematography: Jim DeNault
Editing: David Leonard
Cast: Suzy Amis, Galaxy Craze, Martin Donovan, Peter Fonda, Karl Geary, Jared Harris, Elina Lowensohn, David Lynch 

     

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