Words by Scott Murphy
EIFF Review: The Love Witch with Q&A with director Anna Biller
Director: Anna Biller
Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jefferey Vincent Parise, Jennifer Ingrum
Running Time: 120mins
Have you ever wondered what a cross between a Douglas Sirk-style Melodrama, a Eurotrash Sexploitation and a British Folk Horror would look like? No? Well writer/director (as well as producer, editor, costume and production designer) Anna Biller has provided an answer anyway as it is this and other elements that make up the strange and seductive brew that is “The Love Witch”.
Right from opening scene we are introduced to this films retro stylings. As our lead Elaine (Samantha Robinson) drives down a, clearly rear screened projected, road in a cool vintage car on her way to a small American town. Her hardboiled narration tells us why she had to get out of her previous place in San Francisco and how she had breakdown after losing her husband which she is suspected of have something to do with, thus the relocation. She also explains how she was saved by joining a Wiccan coven. One of whom is whose house she is going to stay at.
The retro style of the film does not stop there though. This is the only new release at the Edinburgh Film festival to be filmed in 35mm (on the night it was also projected on 35mm) and it was also shot in Technicolor which gives a very unique look for a modern film. This also fools the viewer as with the Technicolor and the vintage sets and clothing of Elaine you are convinced you are watching a 60’s-set film but it is not it is actually a contemporary film. Even being aware of this it comes as shock when one character pulls a smartphone out of her handbag.
After Elaine arrives in town she start’s a business providing a local occult shop with tarot cards, erotic candles and various Wiccan paraphernalia. That is not her real mission though. Her real mission is to find love as she explains to her new friend Trish (Laura Waddell) who is frankly disturbed by her vision of love; basically that a women should do anything to support and fulfil the dreams of her man. There is many discussion’s such as this throughout the film that look at different gender views on love, female roles on society and how people put on various masks in order to obtain love.
However if your now worried that the movie is a 2 hour feminist lecture, don’t panic it is not. Now there maybe feminist theory snuck in there but it is not rammed down your throat and it is never done in a po-faced way as this film remains entertaining throughout.
In her mission to obtain love Elaine uses sex magic to make men besotted with her (Actress Samantha Robinson is it is fair to say a stunning classical beauty and it is not hard to imagine her as a seductress). The irony being here that although she pathologically craves men’s attention she is put off when they become obsessed with her even although it was her magic that did this to them in the first place. Her love magic also has the unfortunate side effect of causing her victims to become fatally ill. Which she cares nothing of as we hear through her hilariously caustic and sociopathic narration.
To give too much more about the plot would spoil the film. The plot is not really the main thing anyway as it rambles along in a series of vignettes which may put some off and can seem a little disjointed. It is however the look and the style of the film which is most impactful. It is not hard to see that director Anna Biller came from a fine arts background as each of the different sets be it the Gothic House our protagonist is staying at, a Victorian Tea Room or the local Burleque club each setting has a striking, stylish and often psychedelic look which linger long in the mind after watching it.
Overall: A film that is both loving tribute and knowing parody of 60’s/70’s B-Movies with lots of nudity, some gore, a swinging 60’s soundtrack, a subversive commentary on feminism and the odd pagan ritual. Really what more could you want. Anna Biller has made an absolute gem with “The Love Witch”. Seek it out.
Q&A with Anna Biller
Straight after the screening there was a short Q&A with director Anna Biller where she got to talk about her process, her influences and tell anecdotes about the film. Before all that though Miss Biller informed the audience this was her first time Edinburgh, how lovely the city was and how she really enjoyed the gothic architecture (Sure this is equivalent of a band saying how great is to be in x and saying wherever they are has the best crowds but it seemed genuine). She also mentioned, with a raised eyebrow and cheeky glint in her eye, how it was great seeing men in kilts (You could almost imagine Kenneth Williams saying “Oooooh Matron” directly after the way she delivered this line.)
It was interesting to hear about the process of the making of the film especially that making the sets and costumes took longer to make than filming it did. With a particular pentagram rug the Love Witch has taking Biller 6 months to make for example. She also discussed the influences on the film and while some are easy for audience to see it was interesting to hear about the influence, in terms of suspense, of 40’s Hitchcock films such as “Suspicion” and “Spellbound”. She also went in to her background in fine arts and how that effects how she’s visualises her films, this actually only her 2nd feature, as opposed to someone straight out of film school.
One of the questions centered on the authenticity of the Wiccan practices in the film. It turns out this was not just a throwaway element of the film and Biller spent months researching these practices and rituals as she wanted it to be properly authentic. She noted that most films are not authentic in this but one of the few films that is in its approach is, possibly Britains greatest horror film, The Wicker Man. It was an engaging, informative and slightly geeky (there was a couple of very technical questions about editing and the benefits of film vs Digital) Q&A and Miss Biller came off very well.
Words by Scott Murphy