'Suspiria': Les danses macabres
When Suzy Bannion arrives in Freiburg in the 1977 version of Suspiria, she is immediately flooded by neon lights that are reminiscent of a Kim Novak emerging from the green mist in the classic Hitchcock film Vertigo. When Suzy Bannion arrives in Berlin in the 2018 version of Suspiria, everything in her and around her melts into a color palette of browns, grays and dark reds, which will set (almost all of) the entirety of the film. This is perhaps the clearest and most noticeable contrast that Luca Guadagnino's aesthetic proposal establishes compared to the original text on which it is based. A staging that opposes the expressionism typical of Argento's classic to give primacy to minimalism in colors and shapes. From this first aspect, Suspiria (2018) is presented as a work that goes beyond the idea of adaptation to postulate itself as a new reading, a free reinterpretation, and an artistic proposal whose value resides in itself rather than in its comparison with the original.
When Suzy Bannion arrives at the Tanz Academy in the 1977 version of Suspiria, she enters a building of deep red color and golden columns, located in the middle of a forest that looks like something out of a fairy tale. When Suzy Bannion arrives at the Helena Markos Dance Company in the 2018 version of Suspiria, what she finds in front of it is the Berlin Wall. "Six acts and an epilogue set in divided Berlin." This is the title that sets off the film. Thus, from the outset, Guadagnino introduces, along with his aesthetic proposal, a political bet that places the story in a specific space-time context. "It's all a mess, isn't it?" Suzy says, "the one outside, the one in here, the one that's coming...". And at this moment the reason to subtract Suspiria from its fictional and dreamlike scenario and inscribe it in a tangible historical reality is made clear. Guadagnino's political commentary is built from the correspondence between what happens within the walls of the dance academy and what is happening outside of it, managing to transpose the fragmentation of Berlin during the Cold War to the confrontation and the struggle for power between two large factions within the school. The two witches, the two Berlins. Each is a reflection of the other. This is one of the great differences that Guadagnino's version establishes with Argento's. One that is also reflected in the formal decision about color.
However, what is perhaps the most novel and significant contribution of the new Suspiria is the way in which it incorporates dance as a narrative and formal element. This theme, which in Argento's Suspiria served as a simple detail of the plot, acquires a central place here. This is particularly important for two reasons: first, the witches in Guadagnino's Suspiria are seen dancing, sometimes naked, sometimes dressed, but dancing nonetheless. This is not random, since it aims to recover an aspect that is intrinsic to the very figure of the witch, of her rituals and of her feminine resistance. But even beyond the story, Guadagnino's achievement lies in his way of treating dance as a formal resource in itself. One that allows him to establish a rhythm in the film editing and in the camera movements, the use of which is marked by the movement of the body itself. It is also particularly relevant to note that Guadagnino makes a conscious decision to abandon the classical style of ballet and trade it for a contemporary dance in which there is an intrinsic freedom and spontaneity of the body. Camera movements vary from slow zooms to quick panning and sudden changes that break out over and over again to intensify the drama and tension that builds throughout the film, reaching its climaxes in the dance scenes. And, of course, no sequence exemplifies it better than the one in which we witness the first visible act of witchcraft. In this scene, two bodies are observed in two different places, but they are connected as if by magic. Every step Suzy takes in the dance she performs is reflected in that second body that contorts and deforms in the most brutal way. This is only possible through a rhythmic and impeccable montage, in which each movement of the body marks a change of shot, and each dance step is at the same time a cut.
Guadagnino's Suspiria had a reception almost as divided as the academy it portrays. And it is true that it is inevitable to analyze it without making comparisons with the grand masterpiece of Italian giallo. However, Suspiria (2018) is a film that finds its merit precisely in how it departs from the original proposal while paying homage to it, with multiple references that echo it and expand it at the same time, giving way to countless possible readings around the figure of the witch -and, of course, of the dance that accompanies her-. Motherhood -"the three mothers" and the great twist of the film-, feminism, counterculture, politics... all of this comes into play to find, sometimes symbolically and other times more directly, new levels of meaning in a story that seemed to be already told. Guadagnino's stylized and surreal bet is certainly a win. And it is so as a new story. As a new form. As a new cinematographic work that, from a postmodern standing point, and almost as an act of witchcraft, revives a text and infuses it with a new breath of life.