Some movies are about money and some others are about love. There are also movies about money and love (and that’s often called “films noirs”).
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is nothing like a film noir, even though its characters are shrouded in darkness and blackness. “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” could be confined to the horror film genre, to the vampire film, and yet it is not.
The gothic romanticism that irrigates “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” makes it a film about eternal love and redemption (to make it simple we will call it “Dracula” in the following text because its full title is “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” for purely legal reasons of copyright because some studios had in 1992 and perhaps still have today the monopoly of the simple appellation of “Dracula”).
“Dracula” is a dreamlike, opulent, tragic and romantic film.
1492 in Transylvania. Vlad Dracula (played by Gary Oldman) is a Romanian noble who goes to war to defend Christianity against the Turks. His adored wife, Elisabeta (interpreted by Winona Ryder) left behind at the castle, receives a misleading message announcing the death in battle of her beloved husband. She commits suicide and is denied the holy sacraments. Vlad, well alive and mad with pain, renounces God and becomes the damned Dracula.
1897 in England. Jonathan Harker (played by Keanu Reeves), an ambitious young clerk, has to leave for Transylvania to accompany his client, a mysterious Romanian count, in the acquisition of a London estate. He leaves his passionate fiancée Mina behind.
Jonathan quickly understands once in Transylvania that there are solid reasons to be alarmed: the count, an ugly and terrifying old man, has the most disturbing behavior and seems obsessed by the portrait of Mina that Jonathan brought with him. And for good reason: the old man is none other than Dracula and Mina has exactly the same features as Elisabeta (since Winona Ryder plays both roles).
Dracula imprisons Jonathan in his dreadful castle and sails to London. He sails especially towards Mina in which he sees his lost love, Elisabeta. He regenerates in the many boxes of soil from his native country and arrives in London literally rejunevated.
He may be young and incredibly charming (oh! Gary Oldman), he remains a bloodthirsty vampire and kills – by necessity or only desire, we’ll never know – a few people, including Mina’s best friend, the sensual Lucy.
Van Hesling (interpreted by Anthony Hopkins), the vampire hunter, enters the scene and chase the montruous vampire, who is only obsessed with the amorous conquest of Mina, in whom he sees his eternal love, Elisabeta.
The purest romanticism meets the bloodiest horror, and the decadent and gothic features of the movie makes it a totally bewitching visual object.
Some shots are absolutely beautiful – I keep in mind the costumes for which Eiko Ishioka received an Oscar, the Chinese shadow scenes, a scene shot with a camera dating from the beginning of the 20th century, the symbolism and the numerous references to “Beauty and the Beast” by Jean Cocteau, to Gustave Moreau and to Gustav Klimt, whose painting “The Kiss” is reproduced into a dress.
I also keep in mind the music composed by Wojciech Kilar, which is absolutely captivating.
Beyond the vampire hunt itself and the discussions about ego and the will to surpass God, about Good and Evil – which are the themes developed in Bram Stoker’s novel published in 1897, the most interesting plot of the movie is in my opinion the relationship between Dracula and Mina, which Francis Ford Coppola created from scratch because it does not exist in the original novel.
Coppola makes Dracula certainly a cursed and monstrous being, but also and primarily a sensitive being, endowed with deep amorous feelings, victim of his first surge of rage and madness and finally animated by the scruples of love and regrets. His last gesture will be to finally begs for peace and eternal rest.
The scenes that bring Dracula and Mina together are incredibly moving and the passion that embraces the lovers is more than obvious: I think in particular of the scene of their first encounter – they walk side by side and we can see Dracula struggling against the irrepressible urge to put his hand on the waist of his beloved one – the arm will remain suspended without really touching Mina’s dress.
I also think of the more intimate scenes where Coppola does not suggest sexual passion but finally exposes it very clearly even if they are not strictly speaking sexual scenes.
Many references to the suffocation of female bodies and impulses are scattered throughout the film – and this from the first scene which brings together Mina and her fiancé Jonathan at the very beginning of the film: Mina is the one who passionately kisses her fiancé who has to go away to Transylvania – and finally the fiancé seems almost embarrassed by this outbreaking sensuality.
Their feminine waists may be strangled by Victorian corsets, their minds may be extinguished by Victorian society, but the fact remains that Mina and her friend Lucy feel repressed curiosity and sensuality leading them to read the “Arabian Nights” embellished with erotic engravings or to flirt with several suitors at the same evening.
Dracula’s presence in Mina’s and Lucy’s lives finally destroys this societal corset which deprives these two women of sensual life. An unconscious reaction to this internalized repression will be a total and violent sexuality.
To celebrate Mina, here I am in a red dress which echoes Mina’s one when she falls for Dracula’s eternal and cursed love. The snake worn as a pendant repeats the original sin and the vital energy.
Led by her incompressible passions, Lucy makes love with the demon, in a scene of unreal beauty, and Mina, wiser, may struggle against her own sensuality, but she ends up even more defeated because deep love adds to her physical attraction.
Mina and Lucy are also often dressed in green, the color of hope according to some cultures, but also the color of death, licentiousness and Devil according to others (and, to be honest, there is all of this in Mina).
“Dracula” was indeed the subject of an intense and meticulous preparation by Coppola: a precise storyboard of the film was edited and a reading session of Bram Stoker’s novel was organized with its actors beforehand.
Both for budgetary and artistic reasons, Coppola had wanted to make a film according to the constraints existing at the beginning of cinematography. After dismissing the team dedicated to digital special effects proposed by the studio, he called on his son Roman to create “old-fashioned” special effects and not computer-generated imagery: miniature buildings, a bloody war scene shot in Chinese shadows, another supposed to be from the 1897 era, actually shot with an old camera.
Such artistic choices give an undeniable poetry to the film – even though we are talking about a vampire film. The addition of the romantic relationship between Dracula and Mina gives a whole new dimension to the film that goes far beyond the genre.
Twinset gown – Manolo Blahnik heels – Vintage clutch found at Marcel & Jeannette – Dior Belt – Lanvin fan
Shot at Alfred Sommier hotel