The Love Witch director is not a cinematic sex worker

Hugh Armitage

From Digital Spy

The Love Witch is a visually arresting, glossy technicoloured dream that has the meticulous fingerprints of its auteur director Anna Biller all over it.

Its star, newcomer Samantha Robinson, shines at the heart of the movie like a retro goddess.

But the film's visuals are only part of the story. The Love Witch is about a woman consumed by the drive to become the perfect object of male desire, an unobtainable fantasy.

Like Rosamund Pike's Gone Girl character, she expends her energy in trying to be 'the cool girl'. But unlike Amy Dunne, she is not a self-aware schemer, and her lovers have a bad habit of winding up dead.

Biller has been frustrated by the focus of reviewers on the appearance of The Love Witch over its content (a problem she also had with her last film, Viva, in which she starred as a housewife who becomes the object rather than the beneficiary of the sexual revolution of the '60s).

"They just seem overwhelmed by the style at the expense of the text," she told Digital Spy.

"The sexploitation moniker keeps coming up, and I feel it's inaccurate. I wasn't thinking about that at all while making the movie. It wasn't on my radar at all."

Despite its colourful appearance, Biller's biggest influences were actually film noir and horror – The Wicker Man, Horror Hotel, Secret Ceremony, and the films of Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Carl Dreyer and Hitchcock – mixing everything up "to combine a beautiful femme fatale with a dark, dreadful femme fatale".

Biller has found that the divide in reactions to The Love Witch also falls along the gender divide. "I think a lot of men see it as a silly narrative, or they ignore it.

They think of it as 'lifted from some silly movie from the '60s and it doesn't mean anything', whereas women are experiencing these things deeply personally, as autobiography."

She describes this as a "catalogue of real and painful problems that women have in the world – being objectified, not being listened to, being persecuted" – an experience that is reflected in the character of Elaine, who finds herself both worshipped and despised.

"That's what the Love Witch is – she's more special than any other person and she's also more horrible than any other person. She's very much put on a pedestal and trashed." Her mistreatment doesn't go well for her lovers.

Photo credit: Albert L Ortega / Getty Images

This narrative is one that Biller very much identifies with. "Men are so used to watching beautiful women on the screen and getting to objectify them that they think this is just another one of those sexy movies that's for them to indulge in. They never consider that this movie was made by a woman who has been very vocal about the fact that it's autobiographical."

"It's almost as if they see me as a sex worker and my actress as a sex worker, and we're just prostitutes entertaining them," she continued.

But it would be unfair to paint Biller as frustrated and embittered. She was quick to laugh about the situations she described to us. "I do these movies with humour, not with anger" – although she admitted that a bit of anger came later after the aforementioned reviews of her film.

For anyone who has seen The Love Witch, it will come as no surprise that Biller refuses to surrender in the face of the male-centric movie industry's dominance. "I want to try to include a female audience as much as possible."

She feels that the marketing of her explicitly-sexual films is gradually moving away from men towards a more balanced audience.

"I'm very happy that more women are watching The Love Witch," she said.

As for what's up next, Biller is planning a film that draws more overtly on noir tropes, as well as the post-war 'women's films' of the '40s and '50s, when actresses were more prominent in Hollywood.

"Films about women being married to terrible men, like Gaslight. That whole Bluebeard story was very popular post-war because of all the soldiers coming home and their wives didn't recognise them."

She predicts more focus on diversity in Hollywood's future, with less focus on fussier audiences. Opportunities for female creators are improving thanks to "series like Girls and certain other female-driven projects".

Don't be thinking that Hollywood is turning over some progressive new leaf, though – it's still economics driving everything. "It's all about where the money is," said Biller.

Here's hoping the money is there for more projects like The Love Witch in the future.

The Love Witch is out in UK cinemas, VOD and Digital Download now and coming to DVD and Blu-ray on March 13.

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