Director Igor Legarreta’s Spanish vampire fantasy drama All the Moons (Todas las Lunas), opens to the sounds of Spain in the grip of a civil war. The year is 1876, and the Carlist Wars that began in 1833 when King Ferdinand VII’s death ignited a power struggle for succession to the throne, are now drawing to a close.
The creature of the night is symbolic of immortality that dwarfs the life span of humans. Using the carnage of war as a backdrop to the opening of the story, Legarreta positions the vampire as a tragically romantic figure wandering amidst the ruins of human decay. When we contextualize it in this way humanity is the rubble; the vampires are the scurrying rats.
Opening with the bombing of an orphanage that severely injures a young nameless girl (Haizea Carneros), who is later given the name Amaia, the tragic tone never lifts. A mysterious woman, Madre (Itziar Ituño) emerges out of the night and hears the desperate and fearful plea for help.
Mistaken for an angel, she warns the wounded girl that she must want it from the heart. Accepting Madre’s offer, a kiss heals her wounds, but she’s told from now on she must avoid the sunlight. The woman also explains that just as she has saved her, so she’ll one day have the choice to do the same for someone.
Things do not go as planned, and their union is cut short when soldiers force them to flee. Separated, Amaia is forced to learn about her new nature and how to fend for herself on her own, but then she finds shelter with Candido (Josean Bengoetxea), a man who lives in the shadow of his own tragedy.
Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma, 2008) remains the last great vampire film. For the first time since then, a worthy challenger emerges to end the drought. It’s prudent to exercise caution because while All the Moons looks likely to become a festival darling, having been awarded best director and cinematography at the 25th edition of the Fantasia Film Festival, it could still fly below the radar.
A muted response would complement its muted narrative nature. It successfully explores the mythology and nature of the vampire, touching upon philosophical ideas that define its individuality within the sub-genre. If it fails to make the same mark that Alfredson’s film did in 2008, it’ll be a grave pity, but it suggests that we should direct our gaze to Europe for the eventual successor.
Legarreta demonstrates command of his craft not only as a technician but as a storyteller. He exercises a precise control of intent that’s never compromised by runaway themes and ideas. He and his co-writer Jon Sagalá could be accused of missing opportunities to explore the themes more thoroughly, but the pair understand it’s necessary to make choices.
They constrict the focus of the narrative, implying themes and ideas are present. Otherness and the prejudice of fear are not literally addressed; instead, expect that the audience’s awareness and knowledge of genre and stories can turn these spectres of ideas into something tangible.
Remaining minimalist in its narrative structure, it’s driven forward by the emotions of the characters resonating with the audience. It’s a letter from the heart of the storytellers about the tragedy of their characters, who somehow manage to find heartfelt meaning in their sad life experiences.
The simple premise of saving a life is delicately realised, and is not taken literally. Rather, the storytellers are attentive to the idea that the metaphorical death, and what the people we meet bring to our lives, is a transformational experience. It’s a core idea that could have been the concept for a short film, but All the Moons works as a feature-length story.
The moments have time to breathe, and one sequence where Amaia seeks sanctuary in the wilderness is a silent short film within the feature. Divided into chapters, it has a transitory pace, slicing through time to pick out the moments that come to define her life story. All the Moons is not meditative. It takes an observational approach to emphasise the need to simply be with the character, asking us to feel first, think later.
Teasing whether she’ll give in to her vampiric nature, we’re asked to consider the vampire’s true nature. Traditionally it’s the werewolf that represents duality. All the Moons challenges this, continuing on from Christopher Walken’s civilised vampire, who controls his predatory urges in Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995).
Legarreta introduces the idea of dominant and submissive personalities, considering how the human side could be submissive to the dominant vampiric nature, or if there’s a tussle between the two for dominance. If we’re vulnerable to unstable emotional responses, and as C.G Jung wrote about contradictory first and second personalities, then the vampire is a more complex being than one transformed, their humanity lost forever.
Amaia cannot detach herself from her humanity, maybe as a result of her separation from Madre, and making a home with Candido. He keeps the flame of her human self burning, and Amaia’s twist of fate forces us to consider how both the mind and the body must transform.
The vampire is representative of our desire to escape death. All the Moons beautifully captures the tragic figure of the vampire as a cursed creature. Amaia is scared of dying, but she comes to understand that you cannot be alive if you are able to see all the moons.
We’re anxious about death, as we should be, but without an end, life loses its meaning. Vampire films are a statement that our fear is a blessing, not a curse. These stories penetrate the infantile fantasy of immortality. All the Moons is a tender story about wanting to be loved and understood, to be allowed to live and to die. Who of us cannot identify with these simplest of desires?