Only Lovers Left Alive is the tantalising title of the latest by veteran American indie auteur Jim Jarmusch, his first film since 2005's Broken Flowers to be invited into the Cannes competition and quite possibly the least satisfying film in his 33-year career. Narrative is never strong in the New York-based director's work, but here it appears to be almost non-existent. Instead, the deadpan details and dry one-liners that are his trademark are pushed well to the fore, creating a quirky but slight movie that, at best, might prompt a new generation of moviegoers to search out his back catalogue.
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are two jaded lotus eaters; for non-spoiler purposes we'll call them He and She, since their real names are one of the film's better jokes. He lives in Detroit, She is in Tangier, and when the latter runs out of a steady supply of top-grade blood She decamps to Detroit to be with her man. He is a hipster, making grungey dubstep records that he releases in complete secrecy, but other than that, He is bored. Together, they drive around the decaying motor city, taking sustenance from the blood that He scores from a local doctor.
Things get complicated with the arrival of She's sister (Mia Wasikowska), who does not play by these two sophisticated vampire's rules and thus causes major havoc. But that's about it, as far as narrative goes, and there is so talk much about the ennui of their nocturnal lives that it starts to spread to the audience. This time Jarmusch's cult heroes and items aren't so much smuggled in as blatantly advertised – He puts on a Charlie Feathers record for She to admire – and a wall of fame in his den reveals headshots of William S Burroughs, Hank Williams, Billie Holiday, Edgar Allen Poe, Iggy Pop, Franz Kafka and what looks suspiciously like Rodney Dangerfield.
Hiddleston and Swinton do make a cool couple, though, and they deliver the laconic dialogue quite beautifully. And if nothing else, Only Lovers Left Alive prove that Hiddleston has range, and if he makes more choices like this, a long, rich and varied career is all but assured.