If the original Suspiria is some Alice in Wonderland-esque dream, then Guadagnino’s Suspiria is the stark reality, set in a divided Berlin during the German Autumn that reverberates with the grief of its past, where trauma haunts citizens like a ghostly ectoplasm, where every corner the debris of repression is felt, a dilapidated prison, the same Berlin that possessed Adjani in Zulawski’s 1981 Possession, brutalist and controlled. Even in its form of six acts and an epilogue, its restraint a form of deceit.
This Suspiria is at once a more fleshed out psychoanalytical reading, with Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy taken to the utmost degree.
Here, Suzy Bannon (Johnson) is no meek victim, but fully in control, renouncing her mother and her Mennonite past to gain control of her body and herself. As an ambitious young dance student at the Markos Dance Academy, she catches the eye of Madame Blanc, played by Tilda Swinton as an ageless cold blooded vampire, all porcelain skin and simmering emotion underneath layers of marble.
Colour was a main character in Argento’s world. Here, colour is subdued to a Fassbinder palette in order to give full prominence to the workings of the body, in all of its gruesome power; in the spectacle of high art -ballet - as a mode of moulding the primitive into the civilised. The grim nature of bodily dedication, the sacrifice that comes with athleticism, is almost beautiful, until it’s not as bodies contort like something out of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs. One particular scene stands out: a dizzying ritualistic display of movement, poised and violent at the same time. As Suzy becomes more confident in her dance, another student is literally torn apart. Women are literally pushing one another out of the way to make room for the next, brightest young thing. If this is Guadagnino’s current comment on the state of feminism, then it still works, even as everything seemingly ends in destruction.
Female sensuality and desire is fought with the rigidity and discipline of dance, where passion is channelled into pain, where the ecstasy of both desire and pain are dances in themselves, and these scenes focusing on dance land with a thud. Connotations of ballet-nimbleness, light on the feet-are replaced with a ferocity made all the more violent for the lack of music.
The dance school itself is tucked away from the world of civilisation and men, existing on its own axis of stifling, hidden, female power. Operating alongside this narrative is the psychiatrist, Dr Jozef Klemperer (played again by Swinton - so it’s not only a world but a film operating on female power), who believes that the school is governed by a coven of witches and inadvertently becomes their pawn, as well as being tormented by a vision of his deceased wife, killed in a concentration camp.
Suzy’s memories of the past are presented as Lynchian fragments, whilst still managing to be wholly original, representing the psychic brokenness of a people that have war, pain and sexual repression hanging over them. The relationship between Suzy and Blanc and Suzy and her roommate Sara (Mia Goth) is transgressive, climaxing into an orgiastic ritual of movement and flesh that rivals Gaspar Noé’s Climax and Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, whilst managing to be an amusing melding together of female power instead of an apocalyptic explosion.
Guadagnino has succeeded in making a Suspiria that is genuinely sinister, a work of art that is terrifying for how well he can penetrate the subconscious fears of fourth wave feminism, showing a vision of femininity that is threatening and exhilarating. Paradoxically, by creating a ‘stripped back’, bare-bones Suspiria, the blood is warmer, sharper, the violence announced with an electric vehemence, left to linger.
SUSPIRIA / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: LUCA GUADAGNINO / SCREENPLAY: DAVID KAJGANICH / STARRING: DAKOTA JOHNSON, TILDE SWINTON, DORIS HICK, ANGELA WINKLER / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 16TH
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10