L'AMOUR FROM CRADLE TO COFFIN

When we first glimpse Gary Oldman's ancient Count Dracula at home in his dank Transylvanian lair, he's approximately 460 years old, deathly pale and wearing a twin-peaked hairdo that makes him look like the chalky, androgynous libertine in "Fellini's Casanova." It's Francis Ford Coppola's notion in Bram Stoker's Dracula to reimagine the count as the ultimate romantic. Here's a man who has been pilling for four centuries for his lost love Elisabeta, only to recover her in the form of Mina Murray (Winona Ryder), a Victorian Englishwoman engaged to Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves). If Scott Spencer hadn't gotten there first, this could have been called "Endless Love."

A revisionist, grandly operatic "Dracula" was a fine idea, and screenwriter James V. Hart has employed the multiple narrators of Stoker's novel in search of a contemporary metaphor for blood and death. But Coppola's movie is a wobbly marriage of Ken Russell, Hans Jurgen Syberberg and Roger Corman. Strenuously stylized, veering between commitment and camp, unevenly acted and often awkwardly staged, Coppola's remake throws so much fancy technique at its story that the usually foolproof drama at its core gets drowned in a tide of images. It's not scary, it's not suspenseful and its eroticism is largely theoretical. The costumes by Eiko Ishioka, however, are ravishing.

Oldman, who becomes a thirtysomething vampire when he travels to London, is a marvelous actor with great theatrical instincts: just watch the way he licks Jonathan Harker's razor after Harker cuts himself shaving. He has wit, menace-everything but romantic charisma. Ryder never seems at home in the Victorian milieu, though she's a model of period propriety next to Reeves, who looks bereft without a skateboard. As the old vampire expert Vail Helsing, Anthony Hopkins mugs mightily, while Tom Waits has a high old time as the nut case Renfield, chewing bugs and scenery with equal abandon. "Dracula" is filled with dazzling visual tropes-like the count's shadow, which moves independently of the man-but they're merely decorative. This baroque, messy movie resembles a box of chocolates left too long in the sun.

He's the romantic, the one who speaks of love. She, the proud, wounded daughter of an impoverished French colonial family, would rather pretend she's in it for money, experience, sex. A would-be writer, she has the artist's gift of detachment; it protects her from the scandal of a white girl taking an Asian lover in racist colonial Saigon. Only later, when the affair is over, does she realize that what she felt-but never let herself experience-was love.

Annaud relies on a narration, spoken in English by Jeanne Moreau as the girl's older self, to supply the insights the camera can't record. But Annaud's lush, sensual images are eloquent in themselves, depthcharged with feeling. He's a keen observer of the ambivalent gesture, the unspoken impulse, the passionate gamesmanship of the bedroom. "The Lover's" rarefied sensibility takes getting used to; once its spell is cast, you won't want to blink.

L'AMOUR FROM CRADLE TO COFFIN | News
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