Director Luca Guadagnino attend to Suspiria photocall at 75th Venice Film Festival. Venice, September 1th, 2018 (photo by Marilla Sicilia/Archivio Marilla Sicilia/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
  • Festivals

With ‘Suspiria’, Guadagnino’s Dreams and Nightmares Come True

In 1977, Dario Argento’s supernatural horror Suspiria redefined the genre while terrifying audiences, in Italy and all over Europe. 40 years later Luca Guadagnino, whose Call Me By Your Name was a Golden Globe and Oscar sensation last year, revisits Argento’s cult movie with an ‘auteur reboot’ – and it’s the first time that a horror film was in competition for a Leone d’Oro at the 2018 Venice Film Festival. ‘I saw Suspiria as a boy in a movie theater, and I had goosebumps and shivers over my back, and I had horrible nightmares the following weeks,’ says Guadagnino in Venice. “It was 1977 and as a child, I was living this feeling of social and political alarm in our streets in Italy, with Aldo Moro’s kidnapping and women demonstrations. Making this movie is the crowning of a dream I’ve had since I saw Dario’s movie. Since I was a child I wanted to make a horror movie, and I like to think that Suspiria is my first film!”

Guadagnino moved the story to 1977 Berlin, at the prestigious dance institute ran by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), a choreographer reminiscing of Pina Bausch. Swinton also plays two mysterious characters (who’s who is up to the viewer to guess). The Berlin Wall stands right in front of the school’s entrance, covered with extremist political slogans by the terrorist group Baader Meinhof. Tension is palpable in Berlin, at that time.

In the dance school, meanwhile, weird and haunting things happen. Following the disappearance of one dancer, Patricia (Chloe Moretz), a new one, Susie (Dakota Johnson), arrives, soon to become the company’s star. Disturbing mayhem ensues.

‘With screenwriter David Kajganic, I thought about the political climate at the time of the original Suspiria, which didn’t delve into it, at all,’ says Guadagnino. ‘The apolitical original was also set in Germany, but we decided to move the action from Freiburg to Berlin. Freiburg belongs to Dario (Argento)’s cosmogony: he chose that city along with Turin and New York as a location for his ”Trilogy of Evil” along with Profondo Rosso and Inferno. So we decided to leave that cosmogony alone, out of respect for Dario.’

Actresses Swinton, Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Mia Goth and Jessica Harper (who played Susie in Argento’s film) accompanied Guadagnino on the Lido red carpet. The film was received with a standing ovation. Everyone raved about  ‘a filmmaker who knows how to tell women’s stories better than women,’ as one critic said right after the premiere.

(Top,L-R) Thom Yorke, Ingrid Caven, Renée Soutendijk, Fabrizia Sacchi, Chloe Grace Moretz, Alek Wek, Dakota Johnson, Luca Guadagnino, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Jessica Harper, Malgorzata Bela and Bradley J. Fischer walk the red carpet ahead of the Suspiria screening during the 75th Venice Film Festival; (bottom) Dakota Johnson in a scene from Suspiria.

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‘This is a movie we have been talking about forever since we have known each other,” says Tilda Swinton, one of Guadagnino’s best personal friends (they worked together in I Am Love and A Bigger Splash). “The film is beyond powerful, is very energetic. Films we see when we are adolescents are very powerful experiences, and those films stay with us in a particular way, so the urge to recreate those feelings in an audience that age is powerful.”

“It was intense but a privilege to make this film,” adds Dakota Johnson, returning to work with Guadagnino after A Bigger Splash. “The work was intense but not traumatic, it was beautiful and funny. Luca helped me do a lot of research on films like The Red Shoes and a lot of Fassbender’s films which I had not seen before, and studying dance in a way I have never done before, from Pina Bausch to Martha Graham.”  

One of the main assets of Guadagnino’s remake is the score composed by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who had the difficult task of making older audiences forget the legendary original soundtrack by the Italian band  Goblin. ‘When they asked me to write the music for Suspiria I thought: they’re crazy since I’ve never written a film score before,’ says Yorke, in Venice. ‘Goblin’s score is super famous… it’s like, untouchable. What could I do to top it? It took months before saying yes. I felt just as Guadagnino about his directing a reboot of this horror classic: for the sake of a good challenge, to find out if we can update the same material  and make it our own, pouring in the mix our feelings, neuroses, and fears.’