Suspiria: Interview with Director Luca (Call Me By Your Name) Guadagnino

Suspiria, the new horror film from Luca Guadagnino (Oscar winner for Call Me By Your Name), world premiered at the 2018 Venice Film Fest.



Luca Guadagnino: I come from Palermo, which is for those who don’t know Sicily in the south of Italy.  I remember it was a very busy place despite that Sicily is in a very way remote region,compared to other parts of Italy and there was a very vivid cultural life.  I started to be exposed to very sophisticated kind of theatre and dance since I was very young.  I remember I saw Pina Bausch at the Teatro in Palermo at the age of 13 or 14 and how an immense reaction I had with that so I think dance to me speaks of body.  Body, and the female body in particular and the movie that deals with the way in which a group of people can manipulate each other, can really dangerously play with identity and the physical identity of the others in which these manipulations goes through spells and spells is navigated through the actual concept of dance it makes very important for me to be kind of uncompromising in the way in which we were using dance as an expressionist tool in the film and we were lucky because, again, we had a very solid background of knowledge about it but at the same time we found in Damien Jalet, our Belgian choreographer, an incredible partner.  He was able to not only deliver what it was the meaning of dance for Madame Blanc and her creations but also he made so encompassing the texture of what avant-garde dancing back in the 1970s where the movie is set so it’s almost philological, beautiful investigation of not only the concept of dance but that dance of that time.


LG: That was a beautiful intuition of David Kajganich, the writer.  I remember we were talking how to bring this to life and he talked about what you just said.  He said what about counter-juxtaposing absolute harmonious beauty of the body movement and a hideous disturbing image of another body being moved so that as a sort of experiencing the horror genre, like typical that in the horror genre you do this when you don’t want to (inaudible).  It’s like in the 1950s movies,  like “The Black Lagoon.”  I wanted to make a movie where you can do this but also you want to say what do I do, what do I choose.  


Remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 Horror

LG: It’s the sum of things.  I think on the one hand there are conscious choices like we knew the movie was Dario’s version was 1977 and that is a very important year in 20th Century history,  the year in which the promises of the 1968 are crushed and thrown away and that was a conscious decision.  We are going to keep the period but then there are many intuitive ones that grows and they expand in the encounter with all the filmmakers who you do the movie with.  It was really very important to never let go a sort of sense of uncompromising relentlessness for this film, for all of us.


Set in Germany

LG:  I think Dario Argento’s movie was set in Freiburg, and it was a movie almost in a vacuum like his reality was devoid of any contact with the actual reality when they did the movie and its surrealism was the fabric through which the movie was, the prism through which Dario made his film.  Somehow he was encompassing the anxieties of the time in the anxieties of this color but in this, in order to get there I need to go from there.  But we believe that what the witches are for in terms of who they are, where they are was more important for us in relationship with the anxieties in the world outside the dance company so that they call the generational conflict between those who are putting a very heavy lid on the responsibilities of a country and a younger generation who couldn’t bear anymore the weight of this lid, this really terminal clash so violent in a way is a sort of – is something that is nurturing the forces of evil within the company of Madame Blanc and Helena Marcos so we felt it was quite a dare.  We had the clues by the year in which this movie is set, 1977.


Need to Overcome and Suppress Motherhood

LG: I think that the movie opens, I mean there is a sequence between Patricia and the psychoanalyst, Dr. Klemperer, and after that little prologue you have this image of almost three domestic interior in Ohio in a sort of Amish Mennonite community and you have this needlework saying about a consolatory phrase about that the mother is the only woman that cannot be replaced and she takes care of everybody and I think that we were really challenging such a consolatory concept of motherhood because we know that motherhood it comes also with the idea of refusal like the post-partum depression is a simple example that we can give you so it was interesting to dig down into this world and understand within the concept of a mother that is a great mother where it lays the terrible mother but I am talking too much.


Tilda Swinton:  We are all trying to survive our mothers.  That sort of that’s what we’re here to do and that by the way is a mother’s hope that our children will survive us and in particular our daughters will survive us and be able to live their lives into the future that we can’t go to.  Only they can go and then there are these mothers who try and inhibit that and that concept, that idea of not being able to survive the mother, of a mother inhibiting your growth as a human and as a woman I think is really central to the film.  


Inspired by Mario Bava and Fassbinder

LG: I love Mario Bava of course and I think Mario Bava has a lot to do with Dario Argento’s version.  The color scheme of “Suspiria” wouldn’t be existing without Mario Bava.  That is historical.  In case of Kubrick I didn’t mention Kubrick and, you know, Kubrick is everywhere and always with us and let’s say that Kubrick is a mentor when it comes to the dedication to detail that we try to put in our work, but I like the idea of Fassbinder as a point reference because of his world of cruelty games and these incredibly layered, multi-faceted characters, particularly women characters that he has been exploring in his very intensely lived and suddenly consumed life. I see Bava more as a reference for Dario than for me.

You have a lot of threshold in this film, that dance academy company is already all glasses and windows and you can see what happens outside the wall is a threshold, you know, and so a lot is experienced in the relation from the inside to the outside.  When Dr. Klemperer had his tea with Sara and she leaves abruptly, he goes to see her leaving from the window in the tiergarten cafe.  There is always this kind of idea of looking outside so I think you’re right and the weather was the weather of the German autumn, not in the real sense and in the historical sense it was a very dark times and it was a very – under a very heavy cloud that was both metaphorical but also real physical.


Birth and Death

LG: We don’t want to give up too much, but the concept is, that in order to be born – in order to have a new life–they have to do the process of giving birth.  They have to devour the body of those who they would have given birth to.  It’s a twisted and sickening concept but that has to do with the twisted and sickening minds of the witches.