'Suspiria' Director Luca Guadagnino on Family Dynamics, Psychoanalysis and What Scares Him

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Luca Guadagnino

The horror film about a dance school run by witches has its U.K. premiere at the London Film Fest.

Luca Guadagnino’s horror film Suspiria had its U.K. premiere Tuesday evening at the London Film Festival. The remake of Dario Argento’s beloved film is set in 1977 Berlin, against the backdrop of the German Autumn terrorist attacks.

Dakota Johnson stars as Susie Bannion, a talented young dancer who escapes her Mennonite family in Ohio to become a star in a famed German dance school. It soon becomes apparent that things are not what they seem, and the head of the school, Madame Le Blanc (Tilda Swinton), has other plans for Susie.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Guadagnino about his approach to horror and his exploration of psychoanalysis and family relationships.

He also doubled down on the idea of retiring, but Hollywood isn’t letting him anytime soon. He is already working on a sequel to his 2017 hit Call Me by Your Name, as well as an adaptation of Bob Dylan’s album Blood on the Tracks, written by Richard LaGravenese.

Suspiria opens in the U.S. on Oct. 26.

What was the most difficult scene for you to shoot?

I think this is a movie that is quite complex to make, and there are a lot of set pieces and there is a lot to move around. For me it’s about the conception of things. I would say the Volk dance sequence with the Markos group performing was the most difficult.

In this scene it’s so complicated because you have the dancers, you have the matrons looking at the dancers, but at the same time you have the audience, and you have Professor Klemperer, and you have Sara in another room. You know, there is so much happening and going on. And there is the greater picture that you have to tell the story about.

But also there are the minutiae in the story that you must not forget, and it’s crazy, because sometimes you forget. You say "Oh my God!" I forgot to do a shot of the person’s reaction. So that was quite challenging, and it was four days of shooting.

A lot of the horror is seen only in flashes. Why did you choose to film it in this way?

I think a horror movie has to deal with the uncanny. It has to go down, down, deep in the flesh and bones of the audience. It does not have to be sensationalist. I’m not comparing myself to such a masterpiece, but if you think of The Exorcist, that is basically a family drama. And that’s not doing anything but going at its own rhythm in a slow-burning development of factual things.

Was it important to see the events through the eyes of the characters?

Yeah, so for me, I don’t want to use elements that aren’t organic to the arc of the film in a way that they are expanded to maximize a sort of jump scare or an immediate scare. I hope people come out of the film and are shaken because something goes deep into them.

What did you want to explore in the film about mother-daughter relationships?

I mean, my father is 86 now; I am 47. So, you know, you grow up and you are taken care of, and you are a fragile entity, and then you grow up and you grow up and you grow up and you start to become more independent. And that moment in your life when you are in your 20s, you go in the world and you explore the world, and you are still taken care of but in a more ideal way, maybe in a resourceful way through means.

And then you come back and you start to grow yourself and you start to grow your own family, and your protectors, your parents, start to age, and their bodies become more weak, and they need to be protected. I think in Suspiria, though, the mother-daughter relationship, it’s twisted, like who is the mother, who is the daughter?

Why does Susie come from a Mennonite family in Ohio?

You have a woman from America that is coming with a very strong ideological background that she is neglecting. She doesn’t want to belong there. And the Mennonites come from Germany in general, so in that community there is a sense they belong to the other community of Madame Blanc. And I think it is interesting to see how the community that Susie comes from believes that Susie is some sort of mischievous person, where she is welcome very much on the other side of the world, in Germany.

We have dreams that tell us that maybe when she was a child there was some sort of violence she had, but we don’t know that. The dream logic, you know, it’s always twisted. Sometimes you dream of something that is unsettling but also expresses a desire.

Psychoanalysis is a huge topic in the film. Is there one major idea of Freud that has helped you in your life?

I have never done therapy, but I am a scholar, a student of psychoanalysis. I read a lot of about it. For me, I like the idea that everything is repairable and possible. So you can make everything and you can repair everything.

I think that the Freudian psychoanalysis tells you that you are the sum of your layers, the id, the ego, and the super-ego, and that is not a good thing to deny power to any one of those three elements.

What scares you in your life?

I’m banal there. I’m scared of snakes. I’m scared of a dark alley in a metropolis. But mostly I’m terrified of what can happen to the people I love.

You’ve said you’d like to retire as a director and have your partner be the director in the family. Is this still the case?

I’m still having that dream. I’m tired, my dear. But actually I think I stretched a little bit, like Susie Bannion, my body a little bit. I did two movies back-to-back. I think I need a little holiday.

Why do you think you’re one of the few Italian directors today who have succeeded in making English-language films in Hollywood?

Because I am curious; I am open. I love Hollywood with a capital L, for love. And I believe that the Anglo-Saxon canon of cinema is powerful and inspiring, and I feel home there. Most of my colleagues, probably they feel at home in Italy. I think for me it’s about belonging. Anytime I come to L.A., I feel at home and happy.