Cinema Without Borders: Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person
In this weekly column, the writer explores the non-Indian films that are making the right noises across the globe. This week, we talk about Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person
If there was an award for the most inventive film title of 2023, then, for me, Ariane Louis-Seize’s Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person would have been in close competition with Joanna Arnow’s Cannes Directors’ fortnight film, The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed. A thing in common between them is that both films have much more going for them beyond their interesting names.
Prima facie the premise of Louis-Seize’s debut feature is far-out: a young vampire can’t quite be a vampire. Not only does Sasha (Sara Montpetit) lack the instinct to kill and doesn’t have fangs to strike for human blood, but she also can’t watch slashers and horror films. Instead, she is a born musician, playing melodies on the keyboard like a trained professional. She is a humanist vampire in whom compassion gets triggered—not hunger—at the sight of human death. An impairment that needs to be fixed urgently. After all how long can she live off her parents and thrive on their ration of blood? Sasha must learn that “cadavers don’t grow on trees”, and fend for her own food for which she needs to go out on a kill for sustenance or die for the lack of nutritive blood. She meets Paul (Felix-Antoine Bénard), a lonely, much-bullied teenager with suicidal tendencies who gets into a pact with her. He will die to save her future as a vampire but only after fulfilling a last wish of his own before sunrise.
After its world premiere in the parallel Giornate degli Autori section at Venice, the French language Canadian—rather Quebecois—film, Humanist Vampire... plays in the Centrepiece segment of the Toronto International Film Festival.
It starts off on a wacky, funny and charming note with an eminently likeable kooky vampire family at the core. But, as Sasha pulls out blood bags from her parents’ fridge and sips noisily through the straw, you can sense her unspoken plight. There’s the obvious darker, oft done theme here of teenage angst. Sasha and Paul, a vampire and a human, are united in that they are both outsiders in their own worlds, at odds in personal relationships and with family members. On top of that, they barely have any friends. Both are going through the same tumultuous phase in life, are much misunderstood, disregarded and, in turn, tormented. Like so many other teens they are unable to belong. The film tries to capture their inner turmoil while highlighting the search for individual identity and space. Vampirism then becomes like a familiar allegory for being the freaky, odd lot. Camaraderie is found in swaying gently together to Sasha’s collection of jazz music.
Somewhere along the way, the film becomes all about existential anxieties and changes its course from all the mirth to melancholia with a bittersweet tone replacing the overt amusement at the start. [Suicide Warning] Things take a troubling, morbid turn as the two of them talk about life and death. Is it easier to find meaning in death than in life? When life ceases to enthral, does death seem like a solution?
Humanist Vampire is visually striking. Shot largely at night, it is high on atmospherics as it plays with psychedelic neon lights and splashy colours against the overarching core of darkness. The eclectic soundtrack underscores the inner claustrophobia of the two and the urge to break free.
Ultimately what works in its favour is the film’s commitment to and warmth for its two protagonists. It is built on and draws from the characters. Montpetit and Benard are in perfect sync and make the audience connect with and feel for Sasha and Paul even as the film veers towards a predictable finale despite the promise of freshness in the beginning.