Saturday, 15 June 2019

Mia Goth

Thoughts on a film: Suspiria (2018)

Unfortunately I didn't think very much of director Luca Guadagnino's remake of Suspiria (2018), which might be one of the absolute worst recent films I've seen. Since I don't like to get too negative about the things I write about at 'Lights in the Dusk' I'll try to avoid the specifics as to why I found the film such a lamentable experience. However, if anyone is especially interested in gaining an insight into my issues with this new version of the Dario Argento masterpiece, I did leave a short comment about it on my Letterboxd and MUBI profiles.

There were however a couple of things I did like about the film, which are worth clarifying. Firstly, I appreciate that Guadagnino and his collaborators didn't just turn-in a lazy imitation of the Argento film. While it shares a title and some similarities in terms of character and plot, this recent Suspiria has its own aesthetic and philosophical identity that is distinct and original. The changes don't always make for a better experience, but the effort to take the film somewhere different was greatly appreciated. Moreover, Tilda Swinton is excellent in the role of Madame Blanc; the Mary Wigman/Pina Bausch-like leader of an avant-garde dance company, as well as the witch that presides over its hidden coven. [Less successful was Swinton's superfluous casting as an aging holocaust survivor, Dr. Jozef Klemperer; a piece of stunt-casting so unnecessary and distracting that the production company had to create fake social media accounts for a bogus actor, 'Lutz Ebersdorf', before finally admitting what was plainly obvious to anyone with eyes and ears.]

I also liked the appearances from several cult cinema icons, including Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Sylvie Testud, Renée Soutendijk and Jessica Harper (returning here from the original film), as well parts of the soundtrack by Thom Yorke [although I like the soundtrack album more than its appearance in the film itself, as I think Guadagnino misuses it.] However, the main draw of the film for me was the casting of the actor Mia Goth, who plays Sara, one of the dancers studying under Madame Blanc.

Suspiria [Luca Guadagnino, 2018]:

The film's standout sequence has Goth's character playing an Alice in Wonderland figure; lost in a maze of the building's architectural mystery, which is never fully developed. Here we have the mirror as an obvious "looking glass" through which the character must pass. Or is it something that imprisons her, suggesting the idea of reflection - self-analysis and self-actualisation - where the seeds of doubt flower into a doppelganger, or "mirror twin"; presenting a visual representation of a divided mind and divided body in a divided city like 1970s Berlin. Throughout the film hints at these ideas, but does nothing with them.

Goth is an actor I first encountered in Lars von Trier's late masterpiece Nymphomaniac: Vols. I & II (2013). Since that film, she's carved out a career working with interesting filmmakers on projects that are strange, ambitious, challenging and non-commercial. Her appearance in Suspira is bookended by appearances in Gore Verbinski's bizarre and unclassifiable A Cure for Wellness (2017) - a beautifully shot, almost dreamlike work that in its combination of psychological horror and adult fairy-story has a touch of the original Suspira (1977) about it - and Claire Denis's English-language science-fiction drama High Life (2018), where she appears alongside Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche.

In Suspira, the film comes to life in the brief scenes that focus on Goth's character and her growing suspicions that something at the dance academy isn't quite as it appears. Here, she's essentially playing this film's version of the Stefania Casini character from Argento's classic, but with a far more compelling narrative arc. However, I would argue that the qualities of Goth as an actor and her approach to the character of Sara actually make her a far more relatable presence to the aforementioned Jessica Harper; the lead in Argento's film. There is an innocence to the way Goth approaches this character that is at once childlike but at the same time fearless and undeterred. She plays the character like Alice in Wonderland, exploring the labyrinthine lower depths of the academy with a strange combination of fascination and fear. These later scenes are mesmerising and should've formed the backbone of the entire film, which is far too often weighed down by the wooden lead performance of Dakota Johnson. In fact, if we were to ever suffer the indignity of a remake of Argento's great follow-up to Suspiria, the similarly bizarre and dreamlike Inferno (1980), it would only be palatable if it featured Goth in the role played by Irene Miracle.

Based on her choice of projects so far, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Goth is a cult Euro-cinema superstar in the making; a modern-day Tina Aumont, Sylvia Kristel or Nastassja Kinski, or even someone who might further develop and mature into a future Charlotte Rampling, Catherine Deneuve, or indeed, any of the older cult actors that appeared alongside her in Suspira. Her performance here is subtle, nuanced and fascinating; at odds with much of the film's tasteless, laboured insanity.