Tag Archives: Luca Guadagnino

Dance Macabre

Suspiria

by George Wolf

Seventies horror has had a damn good month.

Just weeks after David Gordon Green gave 1978’s Halloween the sequel it deserved, director Luca Guadagnino re-imagines 1977’s giallo classic Suspiria as a gorgeous rumination on the horror of being haunted by echoes of your past.

Wait, wasn’t the original about witches?

It still is, more than ever. Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich (True Story, A Bigger Splash, the upcoming Pet Sematary remake) remove the guesswork about the dance academy coven in favor of a narrative much more layered, meaningful and bloody.

The building blocks remain the same. It is 1977 in “a divided Berlin,” when American Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson, nicely moving the character from naivete to complexity) arrives for an audition with a world-renowned dance company run by Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton, mesmerizing). Susie impresses immediately, and is soon given the lead in the company’s next production.

This “cover version” (The Tilda’s phrase, and valid) of Argento’s original lifts the veil on the academy elders early, via the diaries of Patricia (Chloe Moretz), a dancer who has fled the troupe in fear. While whispers paint Patricia as a radical member of the anti-fascist Red Army Faction, she tells psychotherapist Dr. Josef Kiemperer (also The Tilda, under impressive makeup) wild tales of witches and their shocking plans.

Guadagnino continues to be a master film craftsman. Much as he draped Call Me by Your Name in waves of dreamy romance, here he establishes a consistent mood of nightmarish goth. Macabre visions dart in and out like a video that will kill you in 7 days while sudden, extreme zooms, precise sound design and a vivid score from Thom Yorke help cement the homage to another era.

But even when this new Suspiria is tipping its hat, Guadagnino leaves no doubt he is making his own confident statement. The color scheme is intentionally muted, and you’ll find no men in this dance troupe, serving immediate notice that superficialities are not the endgame here.

Guadagnino’s stated goal of “de-victimizing” women in this film shows early and often. They move in strong solidarity both onstage and off, dancing with a hypnotic power capable of deadly results. In fact, most of the male characters here are mere playthings under the spell of powerful women, which takes a deliciously ironic swipe at witch lore as it creates a compelling bookend to what’s going on away from the dance academy.

Dr. Kiemperer, still searching for his wife missing since the end of WWII, becomes a personal illustration of Germany’s struggle with its Nazi legacy. When paired with Patricia’s rumored involvement in the “German Autumn” uprising of ’77, we get two important pillars of an epilogue that, admittedly, some may find a head-scratching overreach.

But after the finale that precedes that epilogue, the bigger problem may be breath-catching. A glorious celebration of the grotesque, it explodes into a cathartic mix of Ken Russell’s The Devils and GOT‘s Red Wedding that more than affirms the film’s intense, obsessive build. Guadagnino has thrown so much at us, he knows we deserve a payoff and damn, he delivers one.

It cements a vision of Suspiria that’s as ambitious and it is uncompromising, one that explores different definitions of horror while ultimately delivering more outright shocks and shivers than Argento ever attempted. Who knew a silly witch story could support so much mind-fuckery?

His name is Luca.

 

 

 

Sowing the Seeds of Love

Call Me by Your Name

by Hope Madden

It’s a languid Italian summer circa 1983 and everything is just so ripe.

Call Me by Your Name, the coming-of-age drama from Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash), swoons. Precocious seventeen-year-old Elio (an utterly astonishing Timothée Chalamet) is surrounded with luscious fruit from the trees, lovely girls from the village, books and music to fill the hours spent with his parents (Amira Casar, Michael Stuhlbarg) in the rural villa where they research Greco-Roman culture.

Then their seasonal research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives.

Awash in sensuality, Guadagnino’s love story is unafraid to explore, circling Oliver and Elio as they irritate each other, then test each other, and finally submit to and fully embrace their feelings for one another. Theirs is a remarkable dance, intimately told and flawlessly performed.

Enough cannot be said for Chalamet’s work. He is astonishingly in control of this character, and were that not the case, the age difference between the two characters (Oliver is meant to be 24, though Hammer is 31 which makes the gap seem more disturbing) would have left things feeling too predatory.

Hammer has never been better. Though the young Chalamet’s performance is Oscar-caliber, Hammer matches him step for step, creating a character both vulnerable and authoritative.

A standout in a solid ensemble, Stuhlbarg, looking almost alarmingly like Robin Williams, brings a quiet tenderness to the proceedings, a tone he elevates in a late-film monologue that could not have been delivered with more compassion or love. It’s breathtaking, perfectly punctuating the themes of acceptance and self-acceptance that permeate the film.

But even before Hammer or Chalamet can seduce you, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom does, lensing a feast for the senses. Together he and Guadagnino immerse you in this heady love story, developing a dreamy cadence and alluring palette that invites you to taste.

 

A Beautiful Trainwreck

A Bigger Splash

by Christie Robb

Remember that infamous high school math problem about the trains? You know, the one where two trains leave different cities heading toward each other and you are tasked with discovering when and where they collide?

A Bigger Splash is a lot like that, only instead of trains we are dealing with ex-lovers and the location of the collision is a gorgeous volcanic island off the coast of Italy.

Rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is on vacation, recovering from throat surgery with her studly younger partner Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts), when they are interrupted by unexpected houseguests: her ex-lover and producer, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), and his recently-discovered, lascivious daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). It’s clear that Harry still carries a torch for Marianne. It’s also apparent that he is more than willing to use the close quarters to fan those flames into obsession.

A catastrophe is inevitable. It’s just a matter of time — which, in this film, can tend to drag a little bit. This is not just a movie about nostalgic characters. With its long takes and dramatic score, director Luca Guadagnino’s film itself demonstrates a palpable longing for an earlier cinematic age. But with the stellar cast, breathtaking setting, and stylish costumes, the extra length, like a spare tire on an old flame, is easy to forgive. There is something beautiful in nearly every shot.

Schoenaerts and Johnson deliver solid performances in their somewhat underwritten characters (disdainful melancholic and crafted nymphet, respectively). Fiennes and Swinton, however, are delightful contrasts. Fiennes very nearly steals the show with his frenetic outbursts of verbal diarrhea — and in the scene where he dances to the Rolling Stones, he does. However, in the end this is Swinton’s movie. The layers of emotion she manages to convey with minimal dialogue is what truly makes the biggest splash.

Verdict-4-0-Stars