Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2002)
Directed by Guy Maddin

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

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Synopsis & Analysis
Guy Maddin's filmed ballet Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary is not his finest achievement, but it is still a beautiful, haunting work that is well worth seeing. By making use of his usual hallmarks, as melodramatic poses, careful pastiches of film styles from the 1920s and 1930s, and tinted black and white images, in telling the story of Bram Stoker's vampire (played here by Wei-Qiang Zhang), the director has created a distinctive and lovely movie that is frequently profoundly evocative.

Dracula is a silent film, its only aural content being music and the occasional sound effect, and what dialogue there is is presented in intertitles. These, in accord with Maddin's usual style, are often deliciously quirky and lend the movie a pleasant humorousness. At one point, for example, when the character Lucy (Tara Birtwhistle) is being given a transfusion from her fiancé (Arthur Holmwood), the director presents the viewer with the line, "A brave man's blood is the best thing for a woman in trouble."

The effect Maddin achieves with the use of such intertitles, the score to which his characters perform their actions, and the elimination of spoken dialogue is at once captivating and affecting. The director is able to evoke a strange, lovely, haunting, and frequently whimsical universe that, having enthralled the viewer, transports him beyond the world of his daily experience so that he is made to immerse himself in some liminal, dreamlike reality existing merely as the movie before him.

The film is not, however, made bewitching by these qualities alone. The diverse visual details with which Maddin has filled Dracula also contribute to its appeal. For instance, the black and white pictures, though charming in themselves, are suffused with a particularly vibrant peculiarity, uniqueness, and beauty by the director's having tinted, either entirely or in part, a number of shots scattered throughout his work. Blood and the underside of Dracula's cape are thus deep red. Lucy's cheeks are pink. Money is emerald green, and gold coins are bright yellow. This deliberately melodramatic conceit not only heightens the emotions elicited by the events of the movie, but, along with the director's other stylistic references to earlier cinematic genres, awakens the emotions evoked by films of those genres. When the viewer is made to recall his experiences of such films, the emotions previously kindled by those works are also recalled and lend their impact to that of Maddin's movie.

The emotive effect so achieved is further magnified by the feelings of tension aroused by the movie's exhilarating salacity. Dracula is, in fact, sexually charged throughout. Even the scenery is strangely erotic. The film, consequently, burns with a feverish, dreamy lustiness that leaves the viewer feeling as though he is participating in some lascivious hallucination. Having so been intoxicated by this poignant sense of maddened desire, the moviegoer is readily mesmerized by Dracula's temptation of the film's young heroine, Mina (Cindy Marie Small). Unfortunately, although present throughout the movie, this theme of seduction is never adequately developed. It tantalizes but is never resolved.

This element, regrettably, is not the only part of the movie that is not entirely satisfactory. Much of the narrative of the second half of the film, for example, is rushed, often to the point of losing much of its potential emotive capacity or even its coherence. Perhaps hoping to give the structure of the movie a dreamlike quality, Maddin has instead wasted his opportunity to bring several elements of Dracula to fruition.

Finally, I should note that while neither the film's score nor its dancing, which is often obscured by the various techniques used by Maddin to film the movie, are memorable, both are enjoyable. Mina's dance sequence with Dracula near the end of the film is especially appealing, and is actually very well done.

Maddin's Dracula may not be a masterpiece, but it comes very close. It is certainly one of the most intriguing and lovely films I have encountered.

Review by Keith Allen

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