A German ballet school for girls is the setting for mysterious deaths, in this 1977 horror story, written and directed by Dario Argento. "Suspiria" is a visually stunning film.
The images contain objects we recognize, like people, buildings, and interior decor. But the objects seem vaguely menacing, and less real than surreal, as though they symbolize ideas, repressed desires, or subconscious fears. The vivid, rich colors, strange camera angles, deep shadows, and bright light piercing through darkness, all contribute to the impression that the viewer is trapped in someone else's nightmare.
One haunting segment of the film takes place in a huge, and strangely empty, public square, at night. A blind man and his German shepherd dog stand in the middle of the square, surrounded by imposing buildings of neo-classical architectural style. Some professional reviewers of this film have suggested that the public square is a veiled reference to Hitler and Nazism. Indeed, one could argue that the film's subtext is an indictment of fascism.
"Suspiria" is not for everyone. It is unsettling, and at times grisly. The plot is weak, and plot elements are not really explained. The acting is largely irrelevant. And while the background music is suitably gothic, it is also frantic and monotonous.
The best approach to this "art-house" film is to ignore the superficial plot, and focus instead on the fabulous cinematography, and the gothic images as conceptual metaphors.
Suzy Bannion travels to Germany to perfect her ballet skills. She arrives at the Tanz dance academy in the pouring rain and is refused admission after another woman is seen fleeing the school. She returns the next morning and this time is let in. She learns that the young woman she saw fleeing the previous evening, Pat Hingle, has been found dead. Strange things soon begin to occur. Suzy becomes ill and is put on a special diet; the school becomes infested with maggots; odd sounds abound; and Daniel, the pianist, is killed by his own dog. A bit of research indicates that the ballet school was once a witches' coven - and as Suzy learns, still is.
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