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  M.   July 08, 2013

“Imagine carrying so many sad memories with you from century to century,” he says of his latest film’s creatures

By Allen Barra

Two women, one in her late 30s and another perhaps in her early 20s, move into a rundown seaside hotel named Byzantium. They are pursued by menacing strangers who prove to have no connection to the police or any legitimate authorities. The atmosphere is moody, the night air neon-lit. The plot becomes increasingly ominous, and we see violent flashbacks of the same women, not years but centuries in the past.

Neil Jordan’s 17th feature film, “Byzantium,” is already confounding critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Starring Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement,” “Hannah”) and Gemma Arterton and co-starring Sam Riley and Jonny Lee Miller, “Byzantium” is adapted by Moira Buffini from her play “A Vampire Story.” The film is at once identifiable as a Jordan film but is also kind of a busman’s holiday. “There are definitely elements of my other films in this one,” he told me by phone from his home in Dublin, “but I decided not to work on this film as a writer because Moira’s adaptation of her play brought the story to the screen very well. So I was a bit more relaxed while making it.”

Jordan has dealt with vampires before, in his 1994 Anne Rice adaptation “Interview With the Vampire.” In that film, Brad Pitt’s Louis is asked if Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an accurate depiction of the vampire life. “The feverish dreams,” replies Pitt, shrugging off the question, “of a demented Irishman.” Jordan’s interest in vampires is much different from Stoker’s. “I’m very interested in the burden of memories which people carry from one generation to another. Imagine how much more of a burden that must be for creatures who live for centuries. I was intrigued by ‘Byzantium’ because this time it was two women, and the idea of a mother-daughter relationship added a whole dimension. In some ways it’s a little sad, don’t you think? All the things that human beings must carry with them from decade to decade. Imagine carrying so many sad memories with you from century to century.”

Byzantium” came out in the U.S. on June 28, and it’s just another step in Jordan’s uncommonly varied life and career. He was born in Sligo, in the shadow of Yeats’ Ben Bulben. (“Not so impressive as it sounds,” he once told me, “since virtually all of Sligo is in the shadow of Ben Bulben.”) He was raised in Dublin; his grandfather, mother and sister were all painters.