Inbal Weinberg | Expatriated to Imagined Spaces

by Adrienne Sacks

WHISTLES     dress and   RACHEL COMEY   shoes.

WHISTLES dress and RACHEL COMEY shoes.

Inbal Weinberg is an architect of the imagination, a designer equipped with the tools of history, nostalgia, and fantasy. Her work is what enables the escapism you seek in a film, the sense that the fictional universe you’ve entered for some 120 minutes is believable, a “real place” even if it’s utterly fantastic. As a production designer, she says her role “is more of a magician’s role, creating something that never existed and will never exist.” 

“We all have our own psychology,” Weinberg tells me over the phone. “The films that I love watching don’t have to be the same films that I like making.” Having seen several of Weinberg’s films throughout the years—Suspiria, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Blue Valentine, to name a fewI’ve noticed her style leans heavily towards a lush realism, offering a heightened, detail-oriented artistry that communicates layers of information. While creating beautiful visual compositions, she avoids the pitfalls of sentimentality and romanticism. Describing her creative process, she says, “I walk down the street in New York and I immediately catch at least three scenes that could have the same drama that you might see in a fantasy movie. Imagine you’re looking at an apartment building. I can knock on any door...behind every door there’s a whole universe of people living there. Every little detail of that world reflects back on the person. Humanity is so interesting as it is.” 

With her most recent project—Luca Guadagnino’s reimagination of Dario Argento’s Suspiria—Weinberg was tasked with a unique hybrid of period piece, labyrinthine spaces, and occult underworlds. “It was an interesting challenge to learn about Berlin in the ’70s, but it wasn’t an unusual process,” she says of the initial stages of research. “Then there’s the fantastical spaces of the witches’ underworld. You sort of have to start from zero and put together a lot of different references. Luckily,” she continues, “Luca has a vast knowledge of the art world and crafts, so we had interesting references that maybe don’t connect, traditionally. The richness of the references were there, and we would find images of surreal art and performance art and color palettes and so on.” 

In Weinberg’s world, tapping into the human element of a set is the ingredient that allows a space to be believable. “Our memories of spaces are emotional. When you think back on your grandparents’ house, you have this sense of love for the people, and it permeates everything in the memory. When we are able to bring history into a place, it also has to do with the people that used that piece of furniture or purchased that tchotchke. That helps to bring character to a set.” As for the progression (or regression) of beauty in our spaces, Weinberg has strong feelings: “The contemporary to me, somehow in my visual subjectivity, is always to be avoided. When you look back at other periods it’s like, ‘Oh my god, things were so colorful, or things were so patterned!’ Nowadays I walk into an office and it’s white walls and LED lights, and you think to yourself, ‘Are the white walls and the LED lights going to be considered beautiful 30 years from now?’ It’s very hard to pinpoint what is going to turn a set into a cinematic space.”

We’ll see Weinberg’s work in two upcoming projects this year. For the first, she teamed up for the second time with director Dee Rees (of, most recently, Mudbound fame) after their prior collaboration on Rees’ film Pariah. The upcoming project, titled The Last Thing He Wanted, is based on the Joan Didion novel of the same nameSet in the ’80s and starring Willem Dafoe, Anne Hathaway, and Ben Affleck, the film follows a political reporter who quits her newspaper job and becomes an arms dealer for a covert government agency working in Central America. It’s a visually rich era and location, which means a big job for Weinberg. “It was a period piece and had hundreds of sets. It was a really epic story and an adventurous shoot.” 

Next comes a miniseries called I Know This Much Is True from director Derek Cianfrance, with whom Weinberg worked on Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines. Clearly, her talent has earned repeat customers. “It’s based on a book as well, and is also going to be a kind of epic saga with multiple periods. Right now we’re doing deep historical research, and that’s always a great time—before the madness starts, when you can still have a little bit of time to really think about the periods that you’re going to recreate.” Her dedication shows: although Weinberg’s work exists as an ephemeral stage, her magic lies in cinematic memory—that impossible sensation of nostalgia for a time we never lived in, a realization of the supernatural, or a fictional billboard burned into cultural consciousness. 

Photographer: Tyler Nevitt at The Brooks Agency.

Stylist: Anna Brown at The Brooks Agency.

Hair and Makeup: Claudia Lake using Mario Badescu And Bobbi Brown Cosmetics at Contact NYC