A vampire who refuses to kill makes a life-changing connection in this Quebecois debut at Venice and Tiff
Dir: Ariane Louis-Sieze. Canada. 2023. 92mins
Like so many young people, Quebecois teenager Sasha (Sara Montpetit) has found herself at a crossroads, struggling to navigate the rocky terrain between adolescence and adulthood. Sasha, however, has more problems than most; she is a self-described humanist vampire, whose conscience simply does not allow her to kill people for food – making her an outcast in her own family, as well as the wider world. Ariane Louis-Seize’s debut feature plays like a coming-of-age genre mash-up, and features a tortured blood-sucker protagonist reminiscent of Only Lovers Left Alive, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night or even The Hunger, although it is narratively and stylistically striking enough to make its own impact.
Coming-of-age genre mash-up
Playing in Venice’s Gionarte Degli Autori, the film is likely to draw attention for its memorable title; audiences at Venice and beyond (it next travels to Toronto) should also respond to its atmospheric visuals and a lovely central performance from Montpetit. At the very least, it is a strong calling-card for Louis-Seize, who has previously made shorts including Comme une comete (2020) and See You In My Dreams (2023)
An opening 1980s-set sequence, in which a young Sasha refuses to kill a (terrible) clown at her own birthday party, despite her family’s enthusiastic encouragement, sets the tone of a film which both respects and plays with the tropes of the genre. Other than being vampires, Sasha’s family lead a mundane domestic existence; more three-piece suite than leather and chains. While sunlight is fatal, crosses are more of a minor allergy. Indeed, the screenplay, by Louis-Seize and Christine Doyon, keeps its genre elements restrained and most of the violence off screen — their story is driven by the more universal idea of a young woman desperate to be normal. The emergence of her vampiric tendencies, which stir at the sight of blood, is an almost sexual awakening; this is about Sasha confronting her desires and harnessing her power.
Sasha’s parents are exasperated at her inability to hunt; she raids their fridge for blood bags which she sucks on like juice cartons, adding to her childlike vibe. Sent to live with her no-nonsense cousin Denise (Noemie O’Farrell), who keeps meathooks in the kitchen for the steady stream of men she brings home, an increasingly-hungry Sasha happens upon an emotional support group, where she meets Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard).
A wide-eyed, taciturn young man who is relentlessly bullied at school, Paul wishes to end his life — and is willing to give it to Sasha, who he recognises as a vampire. A sequence in which the pair sway to Sasha’s jazz records in her bedroom, the light changing from red to orange as the sparks of understanding and attraction fly between them, is a neat example of the film’s evocative visual shorthand.
Throughout, Louis-Seize leans heavily into European arthouse influences for her French-language production. Sarah — who is, in fact 68 (although still a teenager in human years) — is presented as something of an ingenue, her long dark hair, blunt fringe and doe eyes giving her both a vulnerability and an intriguing edge. She listens to vinyl, she plays the keyboard, she is by nature (and necessity) a loner. Her connection with Paul is immediate and surprising, and the chemistry between the two is authentic.
Colours, too, are atmospheric: the dark city streets through which Sasha restlessly roams; the neon blues of the bowling alley where Paul works; the blood reds of Sasha’s bedroom where the light flickers whenever her inner vampire threatens to emerge. All this is bolstered by a freewheeling soundtrack which ranges from relaxed jazz to frantic electropop, and strong sound design by Thierry Bourgault D’Amico; particularly worthy of mention are sequences in which external sounds fade and echo as Sasha attempts to keep her animal instincts at bay. Claustrophobic camera work, from Louis-Seize’s regular collaborator Shawn Pavlin, repeatedly frames Sasha and Paul in tight spaces, two tortured souls drawn together — and possibly finding some light in the darkness.
Production companies: Art Et Essai
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Producers: Jeanne-Marie Poulainne, Line Sander Egede
Screenplay: Ariane Louis-Seize, Christine Doyon
Cinematography: Shawn Pavlin
Production design: Ludovic Dufresne
Editing: Stephane Lafleur
Music: Pierre-Philippe Cote
Main cast; Sara Montpetit, Felix-Antonie Benard, Noémie O’Farrell, Steve LaPlante, Sophie Cadieux