David Strat­ton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

The orig­i­nal Sus­piria (1977) was the fifth film made by Ital­ian hor­ror mas­ter Dario Ar­gento. It was a gar­ish af­fair, no­table for the im­prob­a­bly colour­ful in­te­ri­ors of the dance academy in Freiburg where a young Amer­i­can stu­dent (Jes­sica Harper) finds her­self in dan­ger. With its deaf­en­ing sound­track and grisly killings, the film — which screened in a dubbed Amer­i­can ver­sion in Aus­tralian cin­e­mas — was pre­pos­ter­ous yet un­nerv­ing.

It came as a sur­prise, then, when the tal­ented Ital­ian direc­tor Luca Gaudagnino ( I Am Love, 2009; A Big­ger Splash, 2015; Call Me By Your Name, 2017) an­nounced that he was mak­ing a new ver­sion of Sus­piria. And when it was re­vealed that the film would run for just over 2½ hours, an hour longer than Ar­gento’s ver­sion, there was even more spec­u­la­tion.

Then word started to trickle out that Guadagnino’s favourite ac­tress, Tilda Swin­ton, was play­ing two roles in the film, not only that of the se­vere, chain-smok­ing Madame Blanc, artis­tic direc­tor of the dance school (Joan Ben­nett in the orig­i­nal), but also that of a new char­ac­ter in­vented for the re­make — but more of that later.

So when the new Sus­piria pre­miered in Venice a cou­ple of months ago, an­tic­i­pa­tion was at fever pitch — and, in­evitably, there was a de­gree of let-down. De­spite that, there is a great deal to en­joy in Guadagnino’s film, more than there ever was in Ar­gento’s.

The film opens in Ber­lin in 1977, with the city still di­vided be­tween East and West. A young Amer­i­can dancer, Pa­tri­cia (Chloe Grace Moretz), ar­rives at the home of Dr Josef Klem­perer (Lutz Ebers­dorf) to ex­press her fears about the dance academy where she’s study­ing. Klem­perer doesn’t take her very se­ri­ously, but when she dis­ap­pears — af­ter leav­ing a note­book with him — he starts an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Mean­while, Susie (Dakota John­son, daugh­ter of Me­lanie Grif­fith and Don John­son) ar­rives at the academy, which is lo­cated im­me­di­ately op­po­site the Ber­lin Wall. De­spite the fact that she has had no train­ing, she’s given an au­di­tion and res­i­den­tial sta­tus.

The alert film buff will quickly ap­pre­ci­ate that mem­bers of the teach­ing es­tab­lish­ment have been cast with ac­tresses who made their mark in the 70s — An­gela Win­kler, In­grid Caven, Re­nee Sou­tendijk among them; even the orig­i­nal Susie, Jes­sica Harper, turns up in a small but es­sen­tial role.

The film’s first big scene oc­curs when Susie, who has been giv­ing the lead role in an am­bi­tious bal­let ti­tled Volk, is re­hears­ing while in an­other room the school’s for­mer lead, Olga (Elena Fok­ina), lit­er­ally tears her­self apart. This is a grue­some show­stop­per, but much of the film un­folds in a very low regis­ter, es­pe­cially when Sus­piria (MA15+) Na­tional re­lease Roma (TBC) Opens Latin Amer­i­can Film Fes­ti­val First Re­formed (M) Very lim­ited re­lease Ebers­dorf’s Klem­perer is on screen. The ma­jor dif­fer­ences be­tween the two films are the far greater use of dance se­quences in the new ver­sion, the in­tro­duc­tion of the Klem­perer char­ac­ter, and the re­jec­tion of the gar­ish pri­mary colours that dis­tin­guished Ar­gento’s movie in favour of Cold War-era drab­ness.

Nei­ther Sus­piria is par­tic­u­larly hor­rific. But what makes the new film com­pelling view­ing is the ex­tra­or­di­nary con­tri­bu­tion of Swin­ton, who plays three roles in the movie.

At Venice there was spec­u­la­tion about the un­known ac­tor Lutz Ebers­dorf, but word quickly spread that the char­ac­ter of Klem­perer was ac­tu­ally played by Swin­ton un­der a heap of make-up. She is ex­tra­or­di­nary in the role, and the un­usual cast­ing ac­tu­ally makes the char­ac­ter more in­ter­est­ing than he might oth­er­wise have been. (As for the third role Swin­ton plays, I’ll leave it to read­ers to spot her when they see the movie).

Ul­ti­mately, the new Sus­piria is a strangely low-key and at times rather turgid af­fair, but there are enough com­pen­sa­tions, not least in the out­stand­ing cin­e­matog­ra­phy and edit­ing, to make it a highly in­trigu­ing cin­ema ex­pe­ri­ence. Mex­i­can direc­tor Al­fonso Cuaron’s Roma won the Golden Lion in Venice this year, de­spite the fact its ac­cess to view­ers will, as far as we know, be largely lim­ited to those who sub­scribe to Net­flix. The film will open the up­com­ing Latin Amer­i­can Film Fes­ti­val in Aus­tralia and, though we don’t usu­ally re­view films screened only at these fes­ti­vals, I’m mak­ing an ex­cep­tion in this case be­cause if ever a film de­serves to be seen on a big cin­ema screen, it’s Roma.

This is an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal movie set in a sub­urb of Mex­ico City in 1970, when Cuaron was nine. The events that un­fold are all seen through the eyes of Cleo (Yal­itza Apari­cio), an in­dige­nous woman who works as maid, child­min­der and fam­ily friend for a doc­tor, An­to­nio (Fer­nando Gre­di­aga), and his wife, Sofia (Ma­rina de Tavira). The cou­ple have four chil­dren, three boys and a girl, but it soon tran­spires that An­to­nio is in­volved in an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair — he tells the fam­ily he’s go­ing to a med­i­cal con­fer­ence in Canada but he never re­turns, and Cleo spots him on the street in the com­pany of a young woman.

Cleo her­self has a boyfriend, the nar­cis­sis­tic Fer­min (Jorge An­to­nio Guer­rera), a mar­tial arts ex­po­nent — but when she tells him she’s preg­nant, he too de­parts.

The men in this movie are un­re­li­able bas­tards and Fer­min turns out, in ad­di­tion, to be a right-wing ex­trem­ist as we dis­cover in a ter­ri­fy­ing scene in which anti-gov­ern­ment street riots spill over into the depart­ment store where Cleo and Sofia’s mother are shop­ping.

Roma is stun­ningly pho­tographed, by the direc­tor him­self, in gor­geous black-and-white and the Scope ra­tio. Rich in de­tail and su­perbly staged, this per­sonal story rings true on ev­ery level with­out the slight­est hint of ex­ag­ger­a­tion.

It’s a must-see, and one can only hope that, for those un­able to get to the Latin Amer­i­can fes­ti­val open­ings and who don’t sub­scribe to Net­flix that wider cin­ema ex­po­sure, fol­lowed by a Blu-ray/DVD re­lease, will even­tu­ally oc­cur. This is per­haps the ma­jor cin­ema ex­pe­ri­ence of the year so far. Get­ting only a very lim­ited re­lease, vet­eran Paul Schrader’s qui­etly im­pres­sive First Re­formed evokes two great films of the past: Robert Bres­son’s Di­ary of a Coun­try Priest (1953) and Ing­mar Bergman’s Win­ter Light (1962). Ethan Hawke por­trays Toller, the Protes­tant min­is­ter of a small coun­try church, where he preaches to a piti­fully small congregation.

Toller is not only a sick man, he’s also griev­ing the death of his son in Iraq. His an­guish in­creases af­ter a visit from a preg­nant parish­ioner, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), who begs him to talk to her hus­band, Michael (Philip Et­tinger), an en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist who wants his baby aborted to pre­vent the child com­ing into a doomed world.

The film is a cry of rage against the pol­luters and cor­rupters who, Schrader con­tends, are de­stroy­ing the planet, as well as against the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of the churches and the growth of ter­ror­ism.

Hawke gives one of his finest per­for­mances as Toller, and the bit­ter­sweet con­clu­sion, ac­com­pa­nied by the lovely old hymn Lean­ing on the Ev­er­last­ing Arms, is achingly mem­o­rable.



A scene from Mex­i­can direc­tor Al­fonso Cuaron’s Roma

Dakota John­son as Susie in Sus­piria

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