There’s no way to truly prepare yourself for the madness on display in “Suspiria,” including watching the original. Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s horror classic runs nearly an hour longer than its predecessor and greatly expands its narrative scope, so much so that the Oscar-nominated “Call Me by Your Name” director doesn’t even consider it a remake — he prefers the term “cover version.”
The film has already proven divisive, and not without reason: “Suspiria” dances to the beat of its own drummer, and that drummer is a witch planning to harvest the souls of young performers for its latest production of an avant-garde ballet. In an interview at the Venice International Film Festival, where “Suspiria” had its world premiere, the filmmaker said that his affection for the genre drew particular inspiration from Argento’s original.
As a kid, Guadagnino’s viewing habits were largely unmonitored — he saw “Apocalypse Now” in theaters at the tender age of eight — and he was “exposed to shock experiences that led me to love the genre,” he said. “Once, I had a party and screened with my 8mm projector ‘Dawn of the Dead.’ That’s me — I’m a horror fan, horror movie buff. I always dreamt of making horror films, but I also, once I saw ‘Suspiria,’ truly, deeply desired to go to the same places where ‘Suspiria’ brought me.”
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Those places really are strange. “You see this movie and think, ‘What the fuck? What I’m seeing? How could they do this?'” he said. “You see a heart being stabbed; you see death portrayed as a sort of dance; you have these colors; the music never stops. What’s that compared to my previous experiences as a moviegoer?”
Guadagnino saw the potential to take the premise in a new direction. “This idea of older women going after younger women, the focus of the movie in Dario Argento’s version, the relationship between the girls and the matrons, is quit different than the focus of mine,” he said.
Still, the question remained of how to approach such a revered project. “For me, making films is a natural act, and I do what I believe I need to do, so of course it is interiorized, my knowledge of Dario’s film and my respect for it, but at the same time, it is a part of me and who I am that I pursue what I want…I believe that, when you do a movie, you always have to have a zone of darkness, a zone of incomprehension, in order to completely let yourself not resist the process of making your film. You have to submit to the movie happening.”
One of the most talked-about aspects of the movie has been the performance(s) of Tilda Swinton, who’s officially credited as playing Madame Blanc alongside a first-time German actor named “Lutz Ebersdorf” — though it’s been been widely speculated that the character is played by Guadagnino’s frequent collaborator under layers of makeup and prosthetics. Nevertheless, the director is still maintaining the apparent ruse. “There are ways in which he can come back,” Guadagnino said with a wry smile. Later, he went out of his way to praise this new collaborator. “Lutz Ebersdorf’s performance is astonishing, don’t you think so?” he said. “Yesterday in theater, I watched again the movie, but when, at the end of the movie, Lutz has his meeting with a character that we don’t want to name, he takes the dishes in his lap and grabs a pear. And he subtly tries to cut the pear with his knife, and then he resists doing that and brings back his hands on his lap. That incredible precision of gesture tells you how wonderful the performance of Lutz Ebersforf was.”
Guadagnino has grown increasingly prolific since “A Bigger Splash” premiered here in Venice three years ago, and is currently attached to no fewer than three upcoming projects. Asked which of them might go into production first, he mentions an entirely new one: a documentary about shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo, the luxury shoe designer who worked for Hollywood stars in the silent era. “He grew up obsessed with shoemaking, and at the age of 14, he traveled alone from Italy to the U.S. and emigrated to America,” the filmmaker. “He started to work in a factory of shoemaking, and didn’t like what we were doing, because he didn’t find it artistic enough.” Guadagnino described the documentary as a “minutiae-driven recreation of his incredible life.” (His last foray into non-fiction was five years ago, with “Bertolucci on Bertolucci.”)
Nevertheless, the most anticipated project in the pipeline is the rumored “Call Me by Your Name” sequel, of course, which Guadagnino was equally happy to discuss. “I am scribbling ideas,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that I love the characters of ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ even of ‘Suspiria,’ and the opportunity to bring them back for more adventures is something that is infectious to me. It’s not that I am a sort of unsatisfied person who needs to continue stories that have been made and accomplished in themselves.”