By: Kennedy Rooke
Cinema du Parc screened Anna Biller’s 2016 film The Love Witch last weekend as part of their Minuit à Parc screening series. The film follows Elaine, a young woman who leaves San Francisco for a fresh start soon after the death of her husband. There she endeavours to find a new man to fall in love with her, with the help of a little bit of magic. The film left me wanting to redecorate my room, update my wardrobe, take some eyeshadow risks, and brew some potions.
Every shot of the film is drenched in colour, from Elaine’s deep blue and purple apartment, to the soft pastels of the Victorian tea room, to the bright yellows and reds of the Renaissance witch fair. With each new scene I was eager to guess what bright colour would adorn Elain’s eyelids. The film would be pleasing to watch without any sound; it is visually stunning. The dialogue feels choppy and overly dramatic in a way that adds to its retro and campy charm.
Anna Biller is the film’s director, as well as writer, producer, and production and costume designer. According the The Love Witch website, “She is known for her use of classic and outdated film genres to talk about female roles within culture, coding feminist ideas within cinematic aesthetics and visual pleasure.” Feminist commentary runs throughout the film; Elaine’s obsession with men and love is drenched in absurdity - the first big laugh from the audience came in one of the first scenes while Elaine was explaining to her friend her philosophy on men and her friends tells her she seems like she’s been “brainwashed by the patriarchy”. Elaine, however, is not a trope; we get to understand a little bit about what’s inside her, beyond the beautiful, the blue eye shadowed surface. The film is interested in a seemingly archetypal character like Elaine in a tradition of horror and melodrama films, usually made by men. It is reminiscent of those 60s horror flicks; so much so that apart from a couple shots of modern cars, and quick glimpse of an iPhone, you might never know the film came out only last year.
The film was a super entertaining and engaging two hours of pure lavish visuals. The absurdity heightens as the film goes on making for a sometimes hilarious adventure. Still, the feminist messages of the film are interwoven in with these elements. Elaine’s magic challenges us to question whether women are the emotionally charged messes we’re often thought of as. Elaine is tough and tender – she knows exactly what she wants and she uses all of her power to get it. She indulges our fantasies and refutes our assumptions. I mean, who doesn’t want to ride horses with a handsome suitor in the California sun – it’s like something off the cover of a pulp romance novel. A sunny picture, but when magic is involved, you better watch out for what comes next.