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Arts & Life

'Therapy For A Vampire' Puts The Undead Everlasting On The Couch

Music Box Films

Any film in which a vampire sneers that the vial of blood he’s sipping tastes like it came from an aging diabetic must have something good going for it. And it does. This vampire, known as Graf Geza von Közsnöm, played by Tobias Moretti, needs other help as well, which brings him to seek out the pioneering psychiatrist Sigmund Freud to ease the pain of his despair.

Therapy for a Vampire comes from Austria and it’s aware of its Germanic roots – the very first vampire film, F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu, is a German production. Like Nosferatu’s vampire, Von Közsnöm is an overdressed nobleman, here in a pin-striped suit with the stripes too wide and the material looking too much like vinyl.

Therapy for a Vampire is about two bickering couples, one vampire, the other not, whose lives intersect. Viktor (Dominick Oley) is an artist who draws illustrations of patients’ dreams for Freud and will paint a portrait of the Countess (Jeanette Hain). Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan) is a waitress whose beauty attracts Count von Közsnöm – and turns both of them upside down, literally, like bats. While Viktor flirts with the Countess, the Count goes for a spin and takes a drink from Lucy. Both women demand complements. The Countess even threatens that if the Count doesn’t tell her how she looks, he’ll sleep in the cemetery tonight.

The movie dwells on the daily lives of the vampires – although it’s more like the nocturnal lives of the vampires, because they can’t go out in the daytime. The Count and Countess have their frustrations and desires. When the Count casts his gaze upon the back of Lucy’s neck, you feel the genuine depth of his hunger for her, although most of us might not be thinking of a swig from that neck.

It’s a witty, playful movie. The vampires come and go instantaneously – one moment they’re there, in the next, they’re somewhere else. The vampires cast spells that backfire on them. Director David Rühm makes playful edits – the Count demands that Freud tell him where to find the dream painter, and the next shot shows Viktor slicing carrots. Viktor can’t get the face of the Countess to stay on his painting of her. She’s gone to him for a portrait because she casts no image in a mirror and hasn’t seen her own face for hundreds of years.

You’d think the world has enough vampire movies by now, but they just keep coming. The vampire, in all shapes and sizes and ages has an immense hold on the public mind. That may have to do with our epidemic obsessions with ourselves and how brutally we exploit each other. Therapy for a Vampire is a study in self-absorption. Freud never notices that the count lying on the couch levitates in response to a question. He just keeps taking notes.

Vampires are not known for generosity or social-consciousness. They attack and suck blood at will. They’re free of social restrictions, which we human beings seem to value. But there’s a cost to that. The vampires in Therapy for a Vampire are self-centered and self-serving. They’re alone, isolated and finally stuck with only each other.

Vampires may have changed since Nosferatu, but mostly on the surface. Their animalish qualities wax and wane, as does vampire personality. The Twilight movies bring a racial dimension to the vampire world, along with the picture of vampires as volatile and sulky teenagers. In Only Lovers Left Alive, though, Jim Jarmusch shows their persistent, fundamental and touching loneliness.

While Therapy for a Vampire is canny and funny, the Count does seek the help of the great psychotherapist. It’s a picture of us as permanently alienated.

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