It was standing room only at the packed and generally light-hearted Venice press conference for Luca Guadagnino’s anticipated update of 70’s Italian horror classic Suspiria.
Guadagnino, Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jessica Harper, Thom Yorke and writer David Kagjanich were greeted with applause and cheers by attending media. Fans had even gathered outside the conference with homemade posters.
Call Me By Your Name director Guadagnino’s $20M re-imagining of Dario Argento’s 1977 cult classic revisits the story of an American newcomer to the prestigious Tanz dance academy who comes to realize the school is a front for something very disturbing. Backers are Amazon and K-Period Media.
Earlier in the day the film’s first press screening received good applause but also a handful of whistles and boos. The movie is a wild ride and was always likely to polarize — strong reactions are already showing through on social media. Some of the local press have a complicated relationship with Guadagnino to boot. But those I canvassed after the movie were largely enthusiastic.
Tilda Swinton kicked off the presser by reading a tongue-in-cheek letter purportedly from the movie’s absent actor Lutz Ebersdorf, who plays the film’s elderly male psychoanalyst. It has become increasingly clear over recent weeks that Swinton herself — with the help of heavy prosthetics — likely plays Ebersdorf but the in-joke continued during the conference and the crowd loved it.
Swinton told the audience Ebersdorf was sorry not to be there with them and that this would be his only film performance. “Seek a good therapist if disturbed by this film,” she continued, which is likely a reference to Dakota Johnson’s much covered admission that the film left her needing therapy. The humorous missive, which may have also had a deeper significance, also included some sage advice, “There cannot have been a more pressing time to remind ourselves of the dangers of delusion, reactive hysteria, of separatism.”
Swinton deflected a direct question as to whether she play’s Ebersdorf’s character Dr Klemperer. Guadagnino has previously said she doesn’t. In response to a question about a potential Oscar campaign for Ebersdorf, Swinton said she would welcome one [this was all tongue-in-cheek bear in mind].
Inevitably, Johnson was asked why the movie had made her seek therapy, “First of all, I was not psychoanalysed,” she said. “I’m a very porous person and I absorb a lot of people’s feelings. Sometimes when you work on a dark subject matter it can stay with you. Sometimes when you talk to nice people afterwards that helps. And my therapist is a nice person. The experience was not traumatic. It was fun and exhilarating. It was mischievous and playful and I loved it more than anything. The film didn’t send me to a ward. I just have a lot of feelings.”
The actresses each took turns to impress on the crowd how much they loved working with Guadagnino, almost as if to dampen any suggestion that Johnson had been driven to therapy by her director’s methods.
Johnson herself said, “This was my second time working with Luca. I had a foundation of ease and safety. We know each other well. I feel I’m able to do anything in his hands. The film is about things I love: dancers, witches, magic. I grew up loving those things. And groups of women. To have this sort of inside look at those things was perfect. This was truly a dream come true project for me.” Johnson previously starred in Guadagnino’s Bigger Splash, which also debuted on the Lido [that film didn’t have quite as warm a presser as this one].
Swinton added, “Luca is one of my closest friends. We’re pretty much blood related now [a joke and reference to scenes in the movie]. Living and working alongside him is home for me. Beyond ease there is a sense of daring each other which is very important when making art together.” Mia Goth added that working with Guadagnino made her “feel like it must have been to work with a Kubrick or a Fellini. He pushes you, even when you have doubts. It was an honour.”
The film has a striking score from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke who expanded on his previously expressed anxiety about taking on the project, “It was an odd process from the beginning. When they came to see me I though they were mad. Suspiria is a legendary soundtrack. It took a few months to contemplate it. I wanted to run away but knew I’d regret it if I did. The original is such an intense soundtrack. I didn’t try to replicate it. I couldn’t. But I used repetition a lot as Goblin [the band who composed the original score] did. I made spells in my studio.”
The film’s cast is almost entirely female and the story potentially lends itself to feminist interpretation (the film’s violence could also send some viewers in the opposite direction). Guadagnino was thus asked for his thoughts on the MeToo movement,
“It’s interesting for European men to look at the U.S. movement of MeToo. It’s a watershed that you can’t go back from. It has raised awarenesses about the practice of people in power pressing down on other people. We had this in mind on Suspiria and will have on all future projects.”
Guadagnino also let the audience in on an anecdote from his childhood when discussing his affection for director Dario Argento, “I love Dario. I’m becoming a stalker of master filmmakers. I wouln’t be here if not for Dario. Some time after I saw Suspiria as a teenager, my mother received a phone call at our apartment in Palermo. The person told her Dario was at a restaurant in the city so I went to try and find him and waited outside the restaurant.”
The team noted influences ranging from Pina Bausch and Powell and Pressburger to radical feminist writers from the 1970’s.
For more on Suspiria backstory, influences and potential sequels check out our interview with Guadagnino.