Film Review: THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE (directed by David Ruehm)

by Dmitry Zvonkov on June 9, 2016

in Film

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A GREAT SESSION, BUT THERAPY SHOULD CONTINUE

“So, what brings you here?” asks the Professor of his newest patient, in David Ruehm’s Therapy for a Vampire, a stylized romantic comedy fairy tale set in 1932 Vienna. “I’m not good at self-reflection,” replies Count Geza von Kozsnom (a mesmerizing Tobias Moretti). “I feel old and tired. I’ve seen everything. There’s nothing left for me to discover.” What the Count neglects to mention is that he is a vampire. Weary of his 500-year-old marriage to a woman who demands constant compliments, still pining for a love lost centuries ago, and experiencing what might be called a midlife crisis, Nosferatu has come to seek help in the form of psychotherapy from the unnamed bearded scholar—who looks suspiciously like Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer).

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Count Geza isn’t the only one with problems in Mr. Ruehm’s clever allegory concerning love and relationships. Geza’s wife, Countess Elsa von Kozsnom (Jeanette Hain), who hasn’t had a reflection in half a millennium—who hasn’t reflected—longs desperately to see what she looks like. Viktor (Dominic Oley), a young painter who makes his living illustrating the darkly erotic dreams of the Professor’s patients, is in love with an idealized fantasy version of his model Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan), painting every woman as he’d like Lucy to be. This vexes and frustrates the model/waitress, as all she’d like is for Viktor to love her for what she is…until she becomes something different.

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Mr. Ruehm, who also scripted the film, makes fine use of the vampire tropes as metaphor; most of what is said in the film has double meaning. Expertly directed, the movie’s beats click into place with satisfying exactness. Performances are sharp and delightful. The special effects, uncomplicated and familiar, feel like magic. The film’s warm look, its sympathetic characters, compelling themes, fun dialogue, and a story that unfolds in a way that promises some fantastic turns, make for a vibrant, cozy, and seductive world.

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Yet in the end this charming and intriguing work doesn’t live up to its potential. The first half works well but somewhere around the middle we start getting the sense that Mr. Ruehm begins choosing expediency over profundity; with so many fascinating avenues set up to explore, in the end the film limits itself to the simplest and safest. Perhaps this is due to budget and runtime considerations. Perhaps the idea of going off and exploring too far made Mr. Ruehm nervous. And this isn’t to say he didn’t make a fine film. But I would have been happy to watch for another hour if Therapy went to the places its story was begging to go.

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photos courtesy of Music Box Films

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Therapy for a Vampire
Music Box Films
in German with English subtitles | 2014 | Color | 87 minutes
opens June 10, 2016 in New York and Los Angeles
expands into major markets June 24, 2016

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