Marie still can’t decide whether she liked or loathed the 2018 cover version of Suspiria – but at least it was an experience …
Having only recently watched Dario Argento’s Suspiria for the first time ever, my initial reaction to Luca Guadagnino’s interpretation of the subject matter was “where’s all the colour gone?” Even before seeing the 1977 film, the one thing I knew was that colour is a prominent feature of Argento’s work.
Guadagnino does eventually get round to splashing some colour about in the chaotically operatic final act, but for the most part the palette is 70s washed-out beige reminiscent of, say, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It’s appropriate due to the setting of the film in 1977’s divided Berlin, with the dance school at the centre being right up against the Berlin Wall, and the Palace of Tears (the cold war crossing point between East and West Berlin – now a museum) featuring too.
Having successfully captured the look of the era, Guadagnino inserts his characters into this very different dance school. And unlike Argento, Guadagnino makes dance a central focus of events. The choreography, full of sharp moves, harsh angles and sighs is stunning on its own, and is used to striking (and extremely gross) effect at a number of key moments. All credit to Dakota Johnson as Susie Bannion, who clearly put in a lot of work to be able to hold her own with the trained dancers around her.
And speaking of performances – let’s talk about Guadagnino muse Tilda Swinton. Channelling a Marina Abramovic vibe on the one hand, she serenely manipulates Susie into doing her will in a bid for supreme power. Later, she appears in unfortunately risible prosthetics during the finale – so bad one would have to think it a deliberate choice, and yet it made no sense to be so bad. I enjoyed Angela Winkler as Miss Tanner, one of the senior staff at the school, but ‘Lutz Ebersdorf’ was, quite frankly, a distraction. Sadly, Chloë Grace Moretz had the trickiest task – meeting her so early in such a fragile state gave her precious little to work with, and she felt under-served by the script. Which is a shame, as her (very topical) message of “You should have believed the women” gets lost in her heightened emotions.
Bubbling away in the background are media reports of the activities of the left-wing German terrorists the Baader-Meinhof Group. The prominent inclusion of their activities fascinated me for a long while. But as with background radio reports in Guadagnino’s earlier film A Bigger Splash, these had the air of being significant at the time, but in both cases proved little more than an excuse to blame unseen groups for events which occurred, giving our protagonists an easy way out. There’s also something potentially interesting going on with post-war German guilt which never quite gets explored sufficiently.
I think what I’m trying to say is that I admire Suspiria more than I like it. I didn’t actively dislike it, but it’s clear that it’s Luca Guadagnino’s (very) individual homage to something he loves dearly. The original Suspiria doesn’t have a dense plot to begin with, and the Sicilian director riffs on the original like a jazz artist improvising on a classic tune. As a result, Suspiria 2018 felt overstuffed with ideas which never quite reached a resolution, overlong, and overwhelming by the time the final chord was struck.
But I’m happy for Luca that he finally was able to complete his labour of love.