This weekend, director Anna Biller’s insanely weird, unexpected and delicious-looking feature The Love Witch comes to Seattle for an exclusive, one-time engagement. Fans of vintage cinema won’t want to miss the chance to see the film in 35mm this Friday, November 25 and Saturday, November 26 at 7 and 9:30pm at SIFF Film Center.
The Love Witch stars Samantha Robinson as a practicing witch named Elaine. We meet Elaine on the first day of her move into a Victorian-style home that seems to have been custom-designed with her in mind. The apartment’s vibrant colors and strange paintings are worth the price of admission on their own. The film’s director has a background in art and it shows; much of the set decoration, costume design and music are tailor-made for the film by Biller.
In both style and tone, Biller’s film hearkens back to technicolor thrillers of the ’50s and ’60s. Think of Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven (2002), a film with the aesthetic sense, feel and mores of the 1950s, but with an added layer of modern sensibilities. The Love Witch isn’t a period piece, exactly, nor is it some kitschy, self-referential modern day throwback. These characters embody the time and place with total sincerity, and that makes the story all the more effective and consuming.
Elaine’s a witch, but more importantly, she’s profoundly narcissistic and codependent. This makes her doubly dangerous to any man unlucky enough to fall under her spell, both metaphorically and with literal black magic. Furthermore, she doesn’t seem to understand the impact that her wild emotional thrashings have on the people around her.
“You might say I’m addicted to love,” Elaine tells her lady friend. It’s true, and her gleeful celebration of this addiction can’t help but trouble us. She puts a lot of care and attention into her appearance, and the artifice matters. She wears provocative clothing, makeup and hair extensions, all of it acting as a layer of armor between the world and her true self.
Elaine needs to be loved by men so much that she’s willing to forgo her own needs and sense of self to become their fantasy. But there’s a contradiction, too. The men under her love spell lose their edge; she grows bored with them. Nobody wants a man so easily won over by magic, and so the inherent contradiction of her predicament dooms her to be forever unsatisfied.
There’s something unusual and wonderful happening in cinema lately. With so many women making films these days, we’re seeing a profound, abrupt shift from the typical “male gaze”we’re so accustomed to. The men in The Love Witch are vulnerable, insecure and hapless victims. And the women are no picnic, either. It shouldn’t be so weird to have a film that mirrors the female perspective, but it is, and this one does it to an exaggerated, highly satisfying degree.
This one is different from any other movies you’ll see in this or any other year. Think of the way you imagine a dog feels when he tilts his head to the side and stares at something he doesn’t understand. That’s the same way I imagine humans look while witnessing the bizarre beauty that is The Love Witch.
The Love Witch
When: November 25-26, 7 and 9:30pm
Where: SIFF Film Center (305 Harrison St)