Suspiria Poster

I’m still trying to figure out Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria. It’s been more than a month since I saw the movie at Fantastic Fest, and I’ve caught it once more in the meantime. In the immediate aftermath of that first viewing, I was lucky enough to speak with two of the creative minds at the helm of this rebirth of Dario Argento’s classic horror film: screenwriter David Kajganich and actress Jessica Harper, who originated the role of Suzy Bannion in the 1977 original and plays a mysterious role in the remake.

The two were gracious with their time and answers, and I was especially pleased to know that some of my initial misgivings about the film were addressed and eased by Kajganich. I don’t know that I’ll ever wrap my head around this massive movie — which I can’t stop writing or talking about — but I do know that I appreciate the insight Kajganich and Harper gifted me, and I hope our conversation can help fellow readers who might be parsing out their own complicated thoughts.

Below, we discuss the film’s gender politics, the influence of German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder (including a fun personal story from Harper about meeting him), and all that noise about a possible sequel.

To start things off, I grew up in an area with a lot of Mennonite people, so [Susie’s lineage with that religion] was one of the first things that really jumped out at me about this adaptation, and I was very drawn to that as a story element. Where did that idea come from?

Kajganich: It was all about wanting to start Susie’s arc in a place where the audience, quite like the coven, sees her as potentially a very easy vessel. She’s grown up in a culture where her deference to authority has been ingrained in her, where her sense that as a woman she has been in something of a supportive role has been ingrained in her, and these are all things that a coven might think, “Oh, we know what that is and we know how to manipulate it.” Of course, that’s not really the road the movie travels down, but it was important to start her in a place where you think she’s innocent and she won’t see this coming. She’s sort of built to be recruited. That was the genesis of starting her from a religious community, and then it proceeded from there.

I have a question for you, [Jessica]. Going into this movie, I think people had a lot of questions about what your role would be. Was there ever any consideration of you playing one of the witches in the coven?

Kajganich: We knew from the beginning we wanted Jessica to participate and we didn’t want it to be that simple. We wanted there to be something special about her entering the film. And when we realized the coven was going to play this horrifying trick on Klemperer (Tilda Swinton as Lutz Ebersdorf), in getting his wife back for the evening and using it to lure him back to the building, and that you would see that curdle in front of you, we thought that was particularly interesting because when Anke (Harper’s character) shows up she’s bringing this sort of past with her. Any nostalgia you might feel is being encouraged by this vision. So it just felt like this great, subversive way to bring Jessica back in.

Going off of that, Luca said in the [Fantastic Fest screening] introduction that the film was really personal to him, and part of me felt like if there was one personal story in the text, it was that of Klemperer and his wife.

Kajganich: Oh, I don’t think he was literal about that. That was more about trying to make room inside the story that Klemperer had been a witness to evil perpetrated on his country in the past, and had what most people’s reaction would be, which is to be passively appalled by it, until it came knocking at his door. Then pairing that with the contemporary conflict in the film, which is the younger generation asking their parents and grandparents, “Wait a minute, you were implicated in that, you don’t get away at calling yourself innocent. This was a cultural event as much as it was a political event and you participated in it.” And to have a character that you care about too much to judge too harshly, until you start to understand the lengths he’ll go to avoid being responsible for evil being perpetrated against women, is important.

Yeah, I found him very interesting, and I noticed he bookends the story. We start with him and end with him, which is a fascinating thing in a film about women. But I started to realize it feels like a meta commentary on how men observe female stories and have to grapple with how they’ve failed women. Am I right there?

Kajganich: Yes! Absolutely. I also think it’s to contrast the level of empowerment going on in inside of the coven, and Susie’s story in particular, that you have almost as a contrast this idea of a man who’s never been empowered by what he’s seen. He can only hide, he can only convince himself that he’s done nothing wrong. It felt like, rather than taking the eye off of the power of women in the film, Klemperer’s arc was only functioning to try to strengthen his understanding of what was going on in the coven.

Going back to you, Jessica, what was the key difference between working with Luca on set compared to Dario?

Harper: It felt similar in that they were both very generous and very intuitive about what I could bring to the particular role. I felt like they trusted me and that I was in really good hands. To be fair, I was on the set with Dario for four months and I was only on set with Luca for a few days. So, there may have been all kinds of peculiar things that happened that I was not aware of. [Laughs.] But they’re both gentlemen and great artists, so that was very consistent.

Suspiria Reviews

Did you have any talks with Dakota before going into the film? Obviously you’re sharing this character, but they’re so different in terms of the things that they’re put through and the things that they see.

Harper: I didn’t talk to her at all, and I didn’t meet her or anything until I walked on set, when they were mid-schedule. But she was adorable and really welcoming. She was so happy to have the original Suzy around, as was Tilda. So I felt really welcomed and that I didn’t have anything to offer her that she didn’t already intuitively know.

Kajganich: Jessica’s playing this down, when she showed up on set it was like a rock star came around.

Harper: [Laughs] I did feel like a rock star.

David, you’d worked with Luca before. How did you get brought into this project?

Kajganich: The thing about Luca is that there’s no division between work and friendship, it all runs together. So we were in prep for A Bigger Splash and he was starting to ask me questions about what I thought of a remake of Suspiria, and what would interest me about it, and just trying to figure out what would rope me in and so it proceeded from there. So we had the entire shoot and post production on A Bigger Splash to have little conversations over lunch and in the background on set about ways we might handle the story. And it was really a luxury to have that much time to just converse about it.

And were there any films or art that you were specifically inspired by that you maybe wanted to capture a similar feeling to?

Kajganich: Yeah, I’m a great lover of [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder’s films, so when I knew we were setting this in Berlin in the ‘70s, I went back to those films as I knew Luca did for a lot of advice about how to portray that period. The more I watched how his female characters were built, the more I learned about different indirect ways of doing it on the page as well. So he was a big influence for me and I know for Luca as well.

Harper: [To David] I have a Fassbinder story, I’ll tell you later.

Or you could tell it now…

JH: Well it’s really short! So we were filming Suspiria and we were in Munich, the original Suspiria, and [actor] Udo Kier said, “Come on let’s go to dinner, I want you to meet someone.”

Kajganich: *gasps* What! You met him?

Harper: Yeah! We had dinner together. He ordered a baked potato and caviar, naturally.

That’s incredible!

Harper: Yeah, that was really cool.

OK, so one last question. At the screening Q&A, you mentioned something about a sequel.

[Both laugh.]

Harper: We’ve been hearing a lot about that.

Kajganich: I’ll tell you this. When I turned in the script, Luca asked me to put on the cover sheet, “Suspiria: Part One.” So, if the world wants a sequel, you won’t get much of a fight from us.

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