Film Review: SUSPIRIA (USA/Italy 2018)

Suspiria Poster
Trailer

A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.

Director:

Luca Guadagnino

Writers:

Dario Argento (characters), Daria Nicolodi (characters) | 1 more credit »

What happened to good old fashioned subtlety?   And what happened to the maggots dropping from the ceiling of the boarding school?

SUSPIRIA 2018 is the curious remake of the 1977 Gallo horror classic by Dario Argento about a young girl entering a new ballet school, discovering it to be run by a coven of witches.  The director here is Luca Gaurdagnino who helmed the overrated CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, whose talent (or lack of) is more evidently displayed here.  

Jessica Harper who starred as the innocent girl in the original has a cameo in this updated version as the doctor’s wife who went missing during the war.  Dakota Johnson plays the lead role here with Tilda Swinton playing Madame Blanc and an elderly male doctor using heavy prosthetics.  

SUSPIRIA opens with words implying a long film (2 and a half hours) with 6 Acts and an epilogue.  The film is and feels lengthy.  It looks great, courtesy of cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom with haunting music by Thom Yorke who won an Award for it at the Venice International Film Festival.

SUSPIRIA is all looks but it is unfair to say all looks and no substance.  There is more plot than the original though the script is based on Argento’s screenplay.  The story is still set in a German dance school.  But the problem is that Guadagnino’ s storytelling technique appears not to be in use.  It was ok for his last film CALL ME BY YOUR NAME that worked on a weaker narrative, the beauty of the Italian countryside and first love.  In SUSPIRIA many scenes appear unconnected and after reading the story from the press notes, a lot of what transpires is not communicated to the audience.  The plot is made more complicated by its setting in 1977 with the politics of the Berlin Wall.

SUSPIRIA is a complete mess.  Take this scene near the end as a classic example.  The old doctor, Dr. Klemperer (played by Swinton herself)  and his lost wife (now re-untied and played by Jessica Harper) are out walking out in the snow before she disappears for no reason.  The doctor is then dragged into a building by two elderly women, screaming at the top of their lungs.  The doctor is supposed to be lured to the building by a witch disguising herself as the wife.  A huge witch ritual begins with no shortage of nudity (the sort with lots old old withering bodies, sagging breasts and drooping buttocks) but the type one does not want to witness.  Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) is killed in this ritual or isn’t she?  – All too confusing.

Director Guadagnino has put too much effort and has obviously become too serious with the project.  The original SUSPIRIA was a slasher film, scary but fantastic cheesy entertainment that is on every horror fan’s list as a must-see.  Gaudagnino has definitely taken all the fun out of the horror classic.  This one is elaborate, creepy and disgusting for no reason it was meant to be this disgusting.  SUSPIRIA has so far got mixed reviews from critics, as most probably are unsure what to make out of this mess of a horror movie.  Argento’s SUSPIRIA was funny, clever and short.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY6QKRl56Ok

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CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (France/Italy 2017) ***

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Call Me by Your Name Poster
Trailer

In Northern Italy in 1983, seventeen year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father’s research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape.

Director:

Luca Guadagnino

Writers:

James Ivory (screenplay by), André Aciman (based on the novel by)

Luca Guadagnino’s (I AM LOVE, A BIGGER SPALSH) CALL ME BY YOUR NAME arrives with all the accolades after playing major festivals around the world after premiering at Sundance and Cannes.  I did not think too much of it when I first saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival, so I had to view it a second time to see what I could have missed.  The second viewing proved no different in the way I felt about the film, so I had to analyze the reason so many fellow critics loved this film while I just barely enjoyed it.

It should be noted firstly, that 2017 saw the release of three excellent but different gay films.  BPM from France, is a documentary felt drama dealing with AIDS activists that is both moving, real and riveting.  Britain’s GOD’S OWN COUNTRY showed  that gay life is as tough as fucking against a wall, as experienced by the gay farmhand who finally gains acceptance of his lifestyle and finds love.  CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, however is fantasy gay life as if bathed in sunlight and swimming in clear waters in the country and eating peaches.  It is the gay kind of movie that straight people want to see – all pretty and non-troubling with no rough sex in the toilet.  

The two lead stars are straight.  Armie Hammer (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, THE LONE RANGER) plays Oliver, a summer guest at Professor Perlman’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) summer house in Italy.  Every year, the professor invites a student to assist in his research, which incidentally is hardly shown in the film.  The other straight lead is Timothée Chalamet who plays the 17-year old Elio Perlman, the professor’s son, who falls for Oliver.  Both are American actors though Chalamet practised his Italian prior to acting in the movie.  His father is French and mother Jewish which is  suitable for his role as an Italian Jew in the movie.  You call me by your name, and I yours.  It all sounds so romantic.  The gay couple hardly encounter any obstacles, except a few minor ones.  Elio’s father (Michae Stuhlbarg) opens his heart out to his son in one of the film’s best segments, but that is about all the obstacles so far in this gay fantasy.

Guadagnino’s film is undoubtedly stunning, with sunlight lighting up many scenes.  The luscious eating of a peach and the sexual seduction (who seduces whom in the film?) is very erotic.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is adapted into the script by James Ivory from André Aciman’s coming-out and coming-of-age novel.  Still, together with films such as PHILADELPHIA, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME even made by a gay director (Guadagnino is openly gay) is a worthwhile straight gay film to watch it, but don’t expect life to unfold the way life does in this film.  Disgustingly beautiful – the film is all good-looking on the outside and feeling like a fairy tale, neglecting the downers of coming-out gay.   Things never turn out this perfect in any gay coming-out story.  The film feels even more awkward as Elio looks way under below the age of 17.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AMgliTBFKU

 

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TIFF 2017 Movie Review: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (France/Italy 2017) **1/2

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.jpgSummer of 1983, Northern Italy. An American-Italian is enamored by an American student who comes to study and live with his family. Together they share an unforgettable summer full of music, food, and romance that will forever change them.

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writers: James Ivory (screenplay), André Aciman (based on the novel by)
Stars: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg

Review by Gilbert Seah

The gay coming-out story CALL ME BY YOUR NAME arrives at TIFF after rave reviews from its Sundance and Cannes premieres.

It boasts the direction of Italian auteur Luca Guadagnino ( I AM LOVE and A BIGGER SPLASH) and a script by James Ivory. The film explores the tender, tentative relationship that blooms over the course of one summer between a 17-year-old boy on the cusp of adulthood, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his father’s research assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer).

The father is American professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and each summer, the professor invites a doctoral student to visit and help with his research. While Elio has a beautiful girlfriend who takes up most of his emotional time, he also finds a growing physical attraction to the visitor.

The film is a major disappointment being all good-looking on the outside and feeling like a fairy tale, neglecting the downers of coming-out gay. Things never turn out this perfect in any gay coming-out story. The film feels even more awkward as Elio looks way under below the age of 18.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AMgliTBFKU

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME1.jpg

Movie Review: A BIGGER SPLASH. Starring: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes

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abiggersplash.jpgA BIGGER SPLASH (Italy/France 2015) ***
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson

Review by Gilbert Seah

Luca Guadagnino’s new film after his acclaimed hit I AM LOVE is based on the 1969 Jacques Deray sex/murder flick LA PISCINE (THE SWIMMING POOL). The title A BIGGER SPLASH could mean that this film is a more modern take of the then subtle thriller, this one louder and with more sex, nudity and verbal intercourse. To be fair, both films are quite good. A BIGGER SPLASH should be examined on its own, despite the initial bad reviews it received after the Venice Film Festival premiere last year.

The story is updated and the famous Alain Delon role is now undertaken by newly popular hunk, the Belgian Mattias Schoenaerts who plays a character called Paul de Smedt. (Delon played a character called Jean-Paul.) Oddly the other three characters, Paul’s lover, Marianne (Tilda Swinton), his best friend, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson) all retain their same names.

When the film opens, there is a shot of nude figure by the swimming pool. Rock legend Marianne Lane is recuperating from a throat operation on the volcanic island of Pantelleria with her partner Paul when iconoclast record producer and old flame Harry unexpectedly arrives with his daughter Penelope in tow. One can tell immediately that sex is going to be exchanged between different partners. And it happens as predicted.

The four characters (in the menage a quatre), are not particularly likeable personalities. Marianne can be considered a queen bitch, full of herself and served sexually by meek Paul which the audience will likely have no patience with, especially when he is subtly seduced by Penelope. Penelope is a spoilt rich kid. Harry is the most dislikable of the 4, being loud, offensive and abusive when he wants. On the other hand, these four are performed by 4 of filmdom’s top stars. Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton – I would see her in anything and she is always good in any film. She makes gargling sexy in the bedroom scene. Schoenaerts is now hot property after RUST AND BONE and DISORDER, proving himself apt in roles of brooding, sexy men. Fiennes and Johnson are also excellent to watch – especially them inhabiting horrid personalities.

Intriguing as the story is, the film could be shortened from its lengthy 2 hours. Two characters Mireille (Aurore Clement) and Sylvie (Lily McMenamy), Harry’s friends who show up invited by Harry could have been eliminated from the film without much effect. There is also a sudden shock in the plot at the film’s end when the chief Carabiniere announces the death of 7 Tunisian immigrants. One can only guess the purpose of this revelation as it is never made clear. It is likely that Guadagnino wishes to state that the problems of the rich, white elite are not the only problems faced by the police. The dead 7 make A BIGGER SPLASH. The snakes writhing by the pool probably is a metaphor for something else in the story.

Music and sound are appropriately used. The clanging sound invoking menace is one example. In another scene, Harry teases his listeners (and the audience) to identify “What is it? the drumming sound from a record he plays that turns out to be the banging of trash cans. The end credits Rolling Stones song “Emotional Rescue” is also suitably chosen.

The action slowly but surely unfolds in two hours of subtle sexual pleasure. Nudity, both male and female are abundant. Writer/director Guadagnino never makes it clear at the end what really happened between Penelope and Paul. It really does not matter in the long run, which makes all the guessing so neat.

A BIGGER SPLASH marks the return of the sexy moody thriller genre that was so popular in the 70’s and 80’s. Hope the film will make a return (I will refrain from using the obvious pun) to of more films in this genre.

 

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