Inside 'Suspiria'

Inside 'Suspiria'

Luca Guadagnino turns a blood-soaked horror show into girl power-packed Oscar-worthy gold.

Luca Guadagnino turns a blood-soaked horror show into girl power-packed Oscar-worthy gold.

Photography: Willy Vanderperre

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

This interview appears in the pages of V116, our Winter 2018 issue, arriving on newsstands on November 8!

At first blush, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria bears little resemblance to Call Me By Your Name, his barely year-old romance about a teenage boy who falls for an older male houseguest in the Italian countryside. Suspiria, starring Dakota Johnson, Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Tilda Swinton, is a horror film set within an elite dance company in ‘70s Berlin. If in the former a cored peach, perhaps Elio’s most memorable scene partner, symbolized the unsophistication of young male love, the semiotics of Suspiria aren’t so prop-based; the dancing women of Suspiria are self-generating symbols, relying on body language and costumes (sources of both beauty and horror in the lm) to convey meaning.

In an email, Guadagnino emphasizes the importance of nonverbal communication throughout his body of work. “I believe that cinema should speak a language that encompass[es] actuality but deflects into universality” he writes. “The world and the ethics in Suspiria are all part of my imagery.”

Photographer Willy Vanderperre was there to capture Guadagnino’s imagery on the film’s set in the remote Tuscan village of Varese. Vanderperre’s photos conjure another through-line between CMBYN and Suspiria: Both seem to take place somewhat outside of linear time. But unlike CMBYN’s gauzy ’80s dreamscape, Suspiria feels anchored in women’s real but sometimes shadowy collective history. From the rebellious androgynony rocked by rebellious Patricia (Moretz) to the Hepburn-esque glamour of Sara (Goth), the women of Suspiria seem to be from different chapters in time, coming and going like changelings, such as Johnson’s Susie.

After arriving from the U.S., her middle-parted curtains of red hair evincing her Mennonite upbringing, Susie forges a connection with Tilda Swinton’s brittle Madame Blanc. Blanc wears long, flowy dresses, ties up her hair in a tight bun and says things like, “We must break the nose of everything beautiful,” raising the possibility that the company’s demure veneer conceals something voracious.

While the instructors’ modesty-core may seem straight out of Batsheva SS19, Guadagnino and Swinton, who first worked together on 1999’s The Protagonists, have been trying to get the film made for over 20 years. “Desire was the engine that motivated the [cast and crew]—desire for these incredible actresses and performers,” says Guadagnino, who recruited from various industries for his dream team, which includes composer Thom Yorke and supermodels Malgosia Bela and Alek Wek.

“When you make a movie, and definitely [one of] mine, you are in an environment of control and safety, camaraderie and fun,” he says. “To film any scene is to be together joyfully, no matter what you see onscreen.”

While the film is based on Dario Argento’s 1977 classic of the same name, it is impossible to watch without super imposing onto it the present day. Part of that may be thanks to fashion’s apparent embrace of the film; in the lead-up to the film’s November release, the Suspiria aesthetic could be seen everywhere from Gucci’s Pre-Fall 2018 lookbook, which was shot by Peter Schlesinger at key locations from Argento’s original, to Dior’s cerebral grand nale at Paris Fashion Week.

But the aspect of the film that feels most germane to the present moment is the all-annihilating desire it captures, as if the whole history of female martyrdom lies tightly coiled somewhere in the walls of Blanc’s dance company. Just over a year after Guadagnino helped change the face of mainstream queer cinema with CMBYN, the poetics of that Oscar-winning bon- bon feel almost old-fashioned compared to Suspiria. If the former recalled the frustration of J. Alfred Prufrock (“Do I dare to eat a peach?” asked the narrator in T.S. Eliot’s 1915 poem) Suspiria is vividly Plath-like, enacting the release of eons of female claustrophobia in gory detail. Indeed, by the end of Susie’s transformation, the final line in Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” can practically be heard echoing through the screen: “Out of the ash I rise with my red hair, and I eat men like air.”

CHLOË GRACE MORETZ ON THE SET OF 'SUSPIRIA'
MIA GOTH ON THE SET OF 'SUSPIRIA'

Credits:
Photography Willy Vanderperre, courtesy Amazon Studios

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