marie schuller's 'three women arrive' speaks to suburbia’s fears and fashion’s power
Amidst the nuclear quaintness of white picket fenced houses, something strange and beautiful is stirring.
Marie Schuller's film In her film Three Women Arrive is a magically, eerie thing. The distinctly Australian work explores suburban paranoia, the lure of the unknown, our relationships with strangers, and fashion as witchcraft. Set in the suburbs of Sydney, it follows three beautiful and mysterious women as they descend on an otherwise ordinary set of flats. Marie worked with three Australia labels — Romance Was Born, Dion Lee and Maticevski — to not only dress the characters, but mark out who the women are. Are they witches, angels or aliens?
Impeccably dressed, they spend their days entertaining themselves in their apartment — which they never leave — and working the neighbours into a frenzy, who don't understand their odd rituals. Sometimes seances, sometimes the odd bit of karaoke. Then, one day, they all suddenly vanish. Marie tells i-D it's not supposed to be a cautionary tale about suburban paranoia, rather a meditation on the power of a killer outfit.
It feels like there were several influences in this film, but was there a starting germ? A moment that triggered the project and narrative?
We had the luxury of a carte blanche for this project and came to visit Sydney in January for a recce, which really was the starting point of the project. It was important to us that this film had global appeal but at the same time was very Australian by heart. The first day we arrived in Sydney we embarked on a trip to the Blue Mountains and got lost along the way, ending up in some obscure and quaint suburban settlements that looked amazing, almost surreal, and very foreign to me as a European. I loved the aesthetic of these towns so I decided to write a story set in Australian suburbia and it all come together from there.
How did that car ride begin to be spun into a script?
We knew we wanted to feature three designers so I decided to draft three characters differing in personality and looks to represent each designer. Working with elevated designers can be very inspiring and seeing their collections created a base for the visual art direction of the film.
As a fashion film the clothes themselves need to remain the centre of the imagery, and even though I wanted to create a narrative it was important that the storyline remained abstract. I think people have this understanding of fashion film being snappy gimmicky videos with girls twirling in a white infinity studio, but the genre has evolved and developed and audiences have rightfully become more demanding. Like any film, or in fact any good piece of art, the viewer wants to be stunned, inspired, surprised or emotionally stimulated.
It's clearly beautiful, but threaded with paranoia. The suburbs and the unsettling seem like a natural pairing.
The great aspect of suburbia and paranoia are that they are such global and local topics. So audiences will hopefully be able to relate to the themes of the film all over the world, yet the narrative is still very Sydney. The suburban settlements around Sydney were the starting point and a great inspiration for me: the nuclear quaintness of white picket fenced houses, the beautiful order and the strong community spirit was just such a visually strong and thematically rich topic to explore.
The next step was to introduce an element that upsets this order, which is where our three women come in. The core idea is that the women move into a well established and tight knit community and arouse suspicion with their strange behaviour, but most importantly by their looks - they are "just different. The way our main cast is dressed immediately separates them, takes them apart and renders them into outsiders. Fashion is the oldest form of self expression and has been used in history to express political stances, sub cultural belongings or social status. The power in dressing lies at the centre of the film and causes suspicion and tumult in the neighbourhood where our story is set, eventually leading to a full on modern witch hunt.
Are you more interested in the outsider, the unseen, or our fear of those things?
My main interest with the script was to clash two worlds: the well established and ordered suburban setting, and the eccentric and peculiar main cast. It's a very simple storyline of two things that don't mix leading to an eventual explosive meeting. However, it was never my intention to display Australians or suburban communities of being fearful or unwelcoming of the unknown. In the month I spent in Sydney this was never the impression I got.
I think the script more like a game where both players, the three women and the group of locals, play with each other's suspicions and tease the other side's expectations. The women behave in unexplained and peculiar ways, the neighbours try to explain their strange actions. In the final sound bites of the film the script reveals that the neighbours in fact miss the women's presence after they left. I imagined them as a curious and excited group that was driven by interest which turned into suspicion as the strangers started teasing and playing with them.
Was there an album, author or artists you used to get in the right mood while making this?
People mentioned the imagery reminds them of David Lynch, who of course is a great reference always, although he wasn't a direct inspiration for this. I wanted to keep the narrative abstract and loose with many clues that lead nowhere and open questions that never get fully resolved. I guess this is quite a Lynch-ian technique, hence the comparisons.
I find that in film in general, especially in mainstream cinema, there is a trend to over explain which doesn't leave room for imagination or interpretation. I don't really like to be dictated how to read a narrative or understand a film, I always find this patronising as a viewer. I don't think audiences like to be spoon fed every detail of a storyline or always arrive at a clean and well rounded resolution. This might be satisfying in the moment, but it also stops you advancing the story in your own imagination. It stops you thinking further.
In your head, do you have a past and future mapped out for these characters?The producer Gorkem and myself have thought about the future of the three main characters and we both like the idea of a continuous journey. The film starts in a motel and ends with them disappearing so we are hoping to continue the story in another corner of the world, with a new set of designers from that specific country, and a new set of suspicious neighbours. That is the beauty of this project: the theme of paranoia and suburban communities is so localised, yet easily translated into any country in the world. The dream is to keep the story going, with our three mysterious women travelling from country to country to freak out small communities that are mesmerised by the women's beauty and appalled by their inappropriate behaviour.
Text Wendy Syfret