SUSPIRIA (2018, Luca Guadagnino)
On paper, it shouldn’t work — remaking the (arguably) giallo classic by adapting the story but leaving behind everything that made the original distinct: Argento’s one-of-a-kind gonzo visual style and its fantastic Goblin score. Why do this again if you’re only taking the one thing nobody much liked — the narrative? But as it turns out, Guadagnino and his BIGGER SPLASH writer David Kajganich haven’t even taken the narrative, either. They’ve given us a more expansive, creepy epic that turns out to be as stealthily Jewish as CALL ME BY YOUR NAME was.
The fact that this leans on Holocaust drama the deeper it goes is just one of the ways in which the remake has departed from the original text. While we still have Susie the American student joining the ballet company, and characters like Patricia, Olga, Sara, Tanner, Blanc, and Markos remain, everyone’s position has been remixed to further some sort of examination of fascism, guilt, and delusion. At one point Josef* tells his patient that “delusion is lies that tell the truth,” and you can’t help but wonder if Guadagnino feels the same about film — is it fiction that tells the truth? If so, truth about what? The ideas here are large: personal responsibility, power struggles among organizations, artistic interpretation, and complicity with regard to inaction in the face of terrifying institutionalized violence. (It’s telling that we see Blanc’s failure to protect Markos just after we learn about Josef’s failure to protect Anke).
But those ideas are all crammed into a whiplash soup of cinematic flourishes — Walter Fasano’s editing uses too much coverage to stab a lot of cuts into dialogue scenes, hyper-alienating the viewer, while Guadagnino constantly directs our eyes to mirrors and reflections (in one insane location, he manages to completely remove a swirling camera from the mirrors in front of which the characters are standing; that must have been a post-production nightmare)… dream sequences are self-consciously arty but also quite weird and unique. When it turns into an all-out gore-fest at the end, it’s hard to care about anything going on because of how insane it all is presented — and for a movie that spends a lot of exposition time asking us to care about the narrative, that’s a problem. There’s a lot to unpack in this, a lot of sequences to admire and issues to contemplate, but it’s so studied and full of effort that I wasn’t able to connect viscerally to it. Perhaps a second viewing would do the trick, that is if I can muster the courage for it.
- Note: I didn’t realize who was playing Josef until I looked it up on IMDb afterwards. If you’re reading this before seeing the movie, I’d recommend not looking up who plays Josef to protect the integrity of that performance.