Imagine a world where woman’s love is so toxic that it can actually kill. Using satanic sex magic, spells and potions to seduce men, Elaine – last Anna Biller’s modern witch heroine – always succeeds. Taking its aesthetic in the essence of ‘60s movies as the classic Hollywood and Technicolor inspired by Fassbinder, Borowczyk, Franco or Fulci, The Love Witch is something you’ve never seen before.
Shot in velvety 35mm, the film explores the contemporary notions of female glamour, narcissism and gender relations. If some will see an homage to old pulp paperbacks, others will understand it as a revolt against male-dominated systems. Anna Biller is aware of this ambiguity, but stays impartial: “audiences who watch a lot of classic movies don’t have those misconceptions.” Whatever the critics say, Anna Biller’s had once again expressed her unique filmmaking voice. And the result is both highly reminiscent and erotically spellbinding.
You bring an obsessive level of craft to your films. As Viva or A Visit from the Incubus, The Love Witch is an aesthetic experiment with a well-stocked library of ‘60s and ‘70s visual references. What were the inspirations behind the vibrant, highly stylized set design?
I mostly draw from classic movies, painting, illustration, and interior design books. A lot of the references that seem to derive from the ‘60s and ‘70s are a lot older. For instance, horror movies from that time used a lot of Victorian influences – velvet flocked wallpaper, Victorian furniture, and dark wood. Those references also appear in Gothic romance novels and in older films, as do heroines with long hair, perfect facial features, sexy clothes, etc. If you’re designing a Gothic romance/horror movie, these are the obvious visual references. The visuals come from the script and story, not from copying the style of a ‘60s movie.
You’re credited as producer but also as editor, composer, production designer, and costume designer. Why did you choose to do everything yourself?
It’s about artistic integrity. So far I haven’t had much of a choice – it’s either do it myself, or I don’t make a film. It costs money to hire professionals.
In the scene where Elaine buries the poor Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) in the garden after he died of love, she meticulously leaves a witch bottle out of piss, nails, and period blood. During all the film the witchcraft design you made up is so highly sophisticated and detailed that I can’t avoid the question: are you yourself a witch?
I studied witchcraft extensively while researching this film. In the process, I became a witch.
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Dakota Hendrix, a non-binary trans witch based in New York recently said in an interview: “Being a witch is being autonomous; that's the whole point. That's how we draw power. We are defying the patriarchy, we are defying the submissive norm”.  How would you relate queer culture with witchcraft today?
Witchcraft is an individualistic religion, so it’s well suited to non-conformist types of identities.
Why are all the witches and women you portray within the film heterosexual, given that witchcraft has a long tradition of being entwined with queer identity?
Witchcraft as practiced today started in the ‘50s by Gerald Gardner. The witch covens of the ‘50s through the ‘70s or ‘80s were mostly heterosexual. When you talk about a ‘long history’ you’re referring to the last twenty or thirty years at most, and to a subset of covens. My protagonist is heterosexual, and her coven leaders are a heterosexual couple who are training her in gender polarity, which is specifically based on the binary between male and female forces. The story had no room for exploring other types of sexuality, because the movie is not about that; it’s about a woman searching for the love of a man.
Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is an outrageous playboy-type male fantasy. She uses magic sex to capture her male prey, which brings the story to a very high erotic level. What feelings do you expect from your audience when assisting to these very explicit over-sexualised images?
I expected men to sexual objectify her like the men in the film, and for women to identify with her. But I was also interested in whether or not men would be able to see how being a woman who is forced to play that role is so oppressive, and think about their own role in that; and for women to identify not just with the sexy part of themselves, but also the oppressed part. Looking at her just as sexy or erotic is quite a stupid reading, but many men still look at her only in that way.
The Love Witch is not just sexploitation pastiche. If it is sexy, fun and playful on the surface it also contains something deeper underneath. How do you deal with all the different misconceptions around the film?
I think the movie is pretty obvious with what it’s saying. It’s not hidden underneath; it’s in the actual story. If people refuse to see that, then there are either political reasons for that, or else they don’t know how to read a text or follow a story. It’s disappointing when the work is dismissed like that, but I also get a lot of intelligent, thoughtful responses.
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In a previous interview you said: “It doesn’t matter how beautiful you are, you can be lonely and sad inside”. Would you relate this with your personal experience?
I have never considered myself beautiful. But I know that sometimes people have thought of me as beautiful and objectified or ignored me because of it. I also know other beautiful women who are quite isolated because men only want them for sex, and women avoid them because of envy.
According to San Diego State's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women made up just seven per cent of all directors on the top 250 films, a two percent decline from 2015. Very often ‘women’s filmmaking’ is reduced almost to its own genre. What is your feeling about it?
I think it’s good, because it’s a way of calling attention to female-directed films. This extra focus on female directors has helped women to become more visible. Hopefully soon there will be enough films directed by women that it will no longer be valid as a category.
Can you tell us about your next projects?
I’m working on a noir-film inspired movie about a sadistic, controlling husband.
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