Kiss of the Damned [Blu-Ray] Xan Cassavetes

Kiss of the Damned [Blu-Ray] Xan Cassavetes
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That Xan Cassavetes's quirky, languid and lurid sexy vampire picture has struggled to find an audience isn't surprising, but it is unfortunate. Initially, it seems as though Kiss of the Damned is going to be exactly what one's inner sceptic fears: a cheesy, derivative, unfocused, awkward pulp romance. Xan's particular sensibilities do encompass all of those things; however, what's not immediately apparent is that every decision is very deliberately made in the service of a creating a visceral sensory experience designed to connect the viewer to the internal state of the protagonists. All of the uncomfortable anxiousness of the first act makes perfect sense after you realize it's intended as the cinematic embodiment of sexual tension. Once Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia, showing restraint in a career-best performance), a broody human screenwriter, convinces Djuna (Josephine de La Baume), a lonely vampire, to give in to the urgent, burning passion between them, the movie relaxes along with the emotional and physical catharsis of the two lovers. Shifting stylistically to match the peaceful afterglow of their eternal commitment, the music and cinematography slink gracefully into an artsy European vibe. When it's time to address the macabre requirements of immortal life, the tranquility of satisfied yearning is broken by the frenzied, feral hunt (these vampires want to fit in with human society, so fawn is the innocence on the menu). Happy vampires humping and chowing on wildlife doesn't provide much dramatic tension, so the young lovers' bliss (it's refreshing to see a voluntary vamp like Paolo) is interrupted by the arrival of Djuna's sister. Played with coy, sultry menace by Roxane Mesquida (Fat Girl), Mimi represents the embodiment of every impulse her sister represses. As important as Paolo is to the story, the relationship between the two sisters is what drives Kiss of the Damned. Their constant bickering comes from an obvious place of love and mutual jealousy — Djuna secretly envies Mimi's sexual and moral freedom, while Mimi envies the steadfast romantic union her sister has found. Written by Xan, the story feels deeply personal and presents a mature, honest and open attitude towards sexuality and love, acknowledging and forgiving very human weaknesses by demonstrating compassion for the transgressions of the carnal beasts living inside us, which most spend much effort to keep tethered. As arty as the film can be, with luxuriant cinematography and costuming and décor carefully designed to create the look of a moving painting, Kiss of the Damned also has a sense of humour regarding the absurdity of the entire situation. These smirking moments (often involving orgasmic faces of death) make the film all the more interesting, but also stand a good chance of confounding viewers who prefer a consistent tone. As unafraid to speak her mind as she is to make the movie she damn well pleases, Xan Cassavetes doesn't mince words in her feature commentary track: if you don't like her sense of humour or flexible attitude towards sexuality, you can go screw yourself. The director intelligently explains the motivations behind every stylistic choice and humbly questions her subconscious intent as she re-evaluates the film. She comes off at least a wee bit pretentious, at times, but she's self-aware enough to actually call herself out on some of those occasions. The rest of the special features are comprised of interviews with Baume, Ventimiglia and Mesquida, all of whom have nothing but love for Xan. Mequida displays a far greater understanding of theme and subtext than her co-stars, which is likely born of necessity — as the devilish, raven-haired beauty comments, "nothing is hard after working with Catherine Breillat." Thoughtful, erotic, peculiar and beautiful, Kiss of the Damned has a distinct personality that will likely garner it as many lovers as haters. (M.O. Pictures)