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Luca Guadagnino on ‘Suspiria’: ‘I Have Always Loved the Cinema of Extremes’

As a follow-up to the sensual gay coming-of-age story “Call Me by Your Name,” Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” — a bloody and relatively cold reimagining of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror movie, about a ballet school operated by a coven of witches — couldn’t be more different, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less personal. In fact, as the director told Variety, “I don’t know what I can do to be more connected to my roots as a filmmaker than going back to that film.”

What does the original “Suspiria” mean to you?

I saw the original movie when I was almost 14, but I had seen the poster when I was 11. Those two experiences marked me in my imagery very, very strongly, and I started to nurture a sense of obsession for the realm of this film.

Your version is equally inspired by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Why is that?

We know Argento’s interest is in the form and the surface of things and how the cinematic gesture can hit you hard. And Fassbinder was this gigantic filmmaker of cruelty who goes so deep into character. I have always loved the cinema of extremes. I wanted to understand how to create a movie in which you have the most committed scope in horror, as well as the most committed scope in character development and interactions.

Argento’s “Suspiria” is perhaps best remembered for its intense visual design, whereas you chose to set the story within an almost black-and-white world. Why is that?

I was looking with my DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom mostly at the work that Michael Ballhaus and Xaver Schwarzenberger did with Fassbinder. Our color palette comes from there. Dario Argento had explored the idea of the primary colors in such a satisfying and definitive way that there was no reason to go and step on his aesthetics. For our film, the mood and the world is coming from Fassbinder, and also the inspiration came from many artists in the ’70s, from Joseph Beuys to Balthus.

You have also elaborated on the dance element of the film, including a six-minute avant garde dance sequence. Where did that come from?

I am in awe of Dario’s film, but if I had to make a very simple and slight critique of it, it’s that for a movie about an academy of ballet, you don’t see a lot of dance. It’s almost non-present in the film. Screenwriter David Kajganich and I wanted dance to be a protagonist in the film, to empower the idea that magic has a language that can be transmitted through dance, so I approached this wonderful Belgian choreographer, Damien Jalet. Through a crazy coincidence, he had created a small piece called “Les Medusées” that was inspired by Dario Argento’s “Suspiria.” So it was a marriage made in heaven, or in hell. I think dance, as Madame Blanc says, is not about beauty. It’s about breaking the neck, breaking every kind of prettiness in things, and it comes with brutality.

Tilda Swinton has served as your muse for three features now. Without giving too much away, can you explain how you use her here?

I would not say that I used Tilda. I created with her. I wanted this movie to be a deeply female film, to contradict Lacan’s saying, “There’s no such thing as a woman,” because the woman is a creation of the desire of man. I wanted to say the opposite: there’s no such a thing as a man. There was no other person that could deliver this but Tilda, because I trust her and we had fun doing that.

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