As soon as I saw David Lynch produced this, I knew I was in for a mixed bag. It's not that I don't think the man has talent, it's just that he always pushes the artistry and existentialism of the viewing experience to the point that his films occasionally cease to entertain and devolve into a near-nonsensical, unfocused mess. Still, Lynch didn't direct "Nadja" and it never goes that far, though it veers into that territory from time to time. This is a film custom made for philosophical, art-house vampire fans; the kind who think of goth as The Cure and Morrissey, not Marilyn Manson and Type O Negative. The action is thin, the sexuality brief, and the story difficult to accurately portray in mere words. Definitely a one-of-a-kind sort of vampire flick and that alone is reason enough to look it up and give it a whirl.
"Nadja" is a bit of a remake of the sequel to the original Dracula, entitled "Dracula's Daughter". Nadja is the daughter in question, one half of a pair of fraternal twins. Dracula has had many children through rape, but she and her brother Edgar were the only born from love; thus all of the rest were born hideous idiots allowing them to blend into the population (now THAT's black humor!). Nadja is a sexy vampire maiden of perpetual sorrow, enveloped by the sadness of "fleeting joy"; everything she loves disappears in the end. Her brother, thinking them monsters, wants her dead and is ill from not feeding, her "cruel and distant" father has just been killed by Dr. Van Helsing - who is played in an unusual manner by Peter Fonda- who is now aiming for her, and then there's that whole vampire thing: immortality and blood drinking and all that. Her desire for a fresh start in life and inability to break old habits can be a metaphor for many things; drug addiction and bad romantic choices being the two that strike me as relevant. The black and white picture is beautiful, the music is unique, modern, and evocative, and the image of the modern female vamp's hooded form walking down the street smoking a cigarette strikes me as iconic. Nadja herself is quite likable and the cast overall is good. There's a lot of indie charm to the film and humorous little bits of dialogue thrown in like Renfield chiming into a conversation with the philosophical nugget "love is like rabies". Hard to argue with that assessment. This is definitely a film to see if you're into artistic gothic horror with an indie touch that still maintains a classical feel. That's the good.
The bad is that after the first half, the film sometimes tries too hard and is often inconsistent in both the vampire mythos and the overall quality. The biggest loser of points is the unique but often annoying use of a blurry, pixelated camera view used in scenes where Nadja uses her vampiric influence to blur her victims' minds. A great idea in theory but it looks terrible in practice, inducing headaches in the lengthier scenes and making the onscreen action hard to follow in others. I actually wondered if the DVD was defective for a while the first time I viewed the film, but then I remembered David Lynch was involved and let out a little sigh. More good artistic intentions gone bad. And let's face it, when two beautiful women are kissing passionately onscreen or the protagonist is fighting for her life, nobody needs a blurry picture. Some of the dialogue is a bit distracting as well, with the use of phrases like "psychic fax" -used to explain the telepathic link between vampires- or statements like "blood is like chewing gum to these creatures" breaking the sophisticated and otherworldly feel of the film. Some of the plot points are of the WTF variety and the climax is more of an anticlimax, though the ending is somewhat fitting for the character. Still, much more could have been done storywise.
The bottom line is this: if you're looking for the orgy of sex and violence that the back of the box promises, you may as well go buy a coaster because that's all this DVD will be good for (well, that and a non-nude sex scene involving period blood); but if you want a thoughtfully different approach to vampires on film give this one a try. It will never be my favorite vampire film, but it is surely a worthy addition to my undead library.
3 1/2 stars, rounded down because Amazon won't let me change my rating.