Nadja (1994)
By: Paul Ryan on January 12, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Siren Visual Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.50:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 2.0. 90 minutes
The Movie
Director: Michael Almereyda
Starring: Elina Lowensohn
Screenplay: Michael Almereyda
Music: Simon Fisher-Turner
Tagline: Unseen. Unforgiving. Undead.
Country: USA
An exhilarating fusion of genre conventions and eclectic filmmaking techniques, Michael Almereyda's Nadja is a joy to behold. Full of imaginative visuals, inspired casting and amusing riffs on vampire lore, the film will delight both genre buffs and casual viewers looking for something a little bit different.

Hal Hartley regular Elina Lowensohn plays the title character, daughter of none other than the recently-deceased Count Dracula, who has travelled to New York to put his affairs in order. At the same time she has to deal with her dysfunctional relationship with her brother (and fellow vamp) Edgar (Jared Harris). Then there's the matter of the man who killed their father, an obsessive, long-haired oddball named – you guessed it – Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Fonda, who also plays Dracula) and his straight-arrow nephew Jim (Martin Donovan, another part of Hartley's rep company). And Jim's sexually conflicted wife Lucy (Galaxy Craze) seems to be acting awfully strange following a night time encounter with Nadja…

Shot in inky black and white, on a variety of different film stocks (even a toy video camera!) this is a visually dazzling experience. Luckily, the script is as inventive as the imagery, with wit and cleverness to spare. Almereyda throws in nods to earlier vampire classics (including some footage of Bela Lugosi as Dracula) and references other films such as Eraserhead. As it happens, that film's director, David Lynch (who executive produced) has an amusing cameo as a hapless morgue attendant. The dynamic of the characters resembles a typically 90's dysfunctional family film, which is a clever touch amid the genre trappings. Almereyda's casting of 90's indie regulars Lowensohn, Donavan and Harris also works well, but it is Peter Fonda's brilliant and hilarious turn as a hippie-ish Van Helsing that steals the show.

The talented Almereyda would later attempt a similar trick with his bigger-budgeted, star-studded 2000 adaptation of Hamlet, but to lesser effect. This is the real deal, and I can't recommend Nadja highly enough.
Sigh. Great film, lacklustre transfer. Siren's DVD of Nadja comes in a non-anamorphic letterbox transfer, framed at roughly 1.50:1. Depending on overscan from your display (I tried this on three different screens) you may even find it appearing almost full frame. Furthermore there are occasional film artefacts to contend with and telecine wobble from time to time. Such a visually striking film deserves a far better presentation than this.
A serviceable, if occasionally muffled 2.0 audio track is on offer. Like the video, this soundtrack doesn't seem to have had much effort put into it for DVD. That said the dialogue is generally clear and the occasional tunes by Portishead, The Verve and Spacehog all come out fine.
Extra Features
Not a drop. A commentary from Almereyda would have been extremely welcome, but what you get is what you get.
The Verdict
Witty, stylish, visually seductive… Ah, enough with the superlatives already! Nadja is a true one-of-a-kind. Available either separately or as part of Siren's Femme Fatale Collection, this is – despite an underwhelming DVD transfer – a must see.
Movie Score
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