‘The Vampire’: Some Animals Were Harmed in the Making of This Picture

Devoted entirely to screening documentaries, the new Maysles Cinema, which opened in Harlem last month, is in the midst of an absolutely fascinating series of travel docs by great French directors, running through next week. One of the most singular filmmakers featured in the series is Jean Painlevé, a surrealist critic, artist, and director who made a career out of creating oddly poetic science and nature films. The Vampire is a beautifully shot, rarely screened, intense short about an exceptional species of vampire bat found in South America. Though made in 1945, this is still brilliantly resonant stuff — a documentary that feels like a horror movie, with a Duke Ellington soundtrack that somehow adds to the overall eeriness. Be warned, though: Painlevé is unafraid to let the cuddliest guinea pig ever take one for the team in order to demonstrate the vampire bat’s deadly capabilities. —Bilge Ebiri