Inside Tilda Swinton’s ‘Suspiria’ Ruse: Yes, It’s Her as the Old German Man
Some spoilers, folks!
VENICE, Italy—Despite the best efforts of Marco Rubio, whose Twitter crusade against Ryan Gosling’s moon-landing film First Man only underscored his ignorance and ineffectualness, the award for the silliest “controversy” to emanate from the 2018 Venice Film Festival goes to the most seraphic and mystical of beings, Tilda Swinton, and the team behind Suspiria.
A reimagining of Dario Argento’s celebrated 1977 giallo horror of the same name, the latest from filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name) is set in ’77 Berlin amidst Cold War turmoil, including a series of bombings and attacks from the militant Red Army Faction. Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), an Amish gal from Ohio, has made a pilgrimage there to study under the tutelage of Madame Blanc (Swinton) at the Markos Dance Academy. But the dancers at Markos are plagued by nightmares and violent fits, and soon discover that the dance troupe is governed by a coven of witches hell-bent on upending the patriarchy.
The patriarchal stand-in, as it were, is none other than Dr. Jozef Klemperer, an elderly German psychologist whose patient Patricia Hingle (Chloe Grace Moretz), a student at Markos, has mysteriously vanished—but not before claiming that the circle of women at Markos have ties to the occult. And so Dr. Klemperer sets off into the snowy night, investigating Pa-tree-zi-a’s disappearance and the dance academy.
In the closing credits of the film and all its promotional materials, including the trailer, a “Lutz Ebersdorf” is credited as playing Klemperer. Someone has even taken it upon themselves to create an IMDb page for the 82-year-old “actor,” replete with a profile photo and detailed bio stating his “family fled Nazi Germany” when he was two, and that he “went on to co-found the experimental theatre group Piefke Versus—a radical performance ensemble heavily influenced by the Vienna Actionists and in particular the work of Hermann Nitsch” and to produce “several short art films (now believed to be lost films).”
“Ebersdorf has worked in Berlin as a practicing Kleinian analyst, specialising in mother-daughter relationships, since 1969,” it continues. “In 2016 director Luca Guadagnino approached Ebersdorf to appear in Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria as Dr. Josef Klemperer, a Kleinian psychoanalyst.”
Swinton read a letter, supposedly from Ebersdorf, at the film’s press conference in Venice. “I am a private individual who prefers to remain private,” it read, offering an apology to “the esteemed ladies and gentlemen of the press” for his absence. “Though I strongly suspect Suspiria will be the only film I ever appear in, I like the work, and I do not mind getting up very early.”
When pressed why she decided to “play two roles” in the film, Swinton dead-panned, “What two roles?” adding with a straight face, “As you will see from the credits and on all the posters, Dr. Klemperer is played by Lutz Ebersdorf, who sent a message which I read just now.”
Guadagnino also addressed the Ebersdorf conundrum during an interview with Yahoo! News in February, saying, “They made a picture of my actor Lutz Ebersdorf and they claimed it was Tilda in make-up. I don’t know why and I don’t know who.”
You’ve got to admire the ruse. Swinton does make for a convincing 82-year-old German man in Suspiria under the heaps of prosthetics, accent and all. While not nearly as obvious to the eye as as her old lady in The Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s Swinton all the same, evident in her mannerisms, unmistakable face, and voice. I mean, look at this profile shot from the trailer:
Still, who doesn’t admire this level of commitment? And if all that weren’t enough, Swinton actually plays three roles in Suspiria, the third even more unrecognizable than the second. But we won’t ruin the surprise.