by GREG KING
A Bigger Splash is the new film from Italian director Luca Guadagnino. It stars Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson. Greg spoke to Luca, who was in town to promote the film with a series of Q&A screenings, to find out more about the making of the movie.
“I wish I could be more like one of my favourites Stanley Kubrick, able to not speak to anybody about my movie but let the movies speak for themselves,” confesses prolific Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino. Better known for the gorgeous 2009 drama I Am Love, Guadagnino was in town to introduce his latest film A Bigger Splash and participate in some Q&A sessions.
“Having said that it’s always fascinating, interesting, revelatory to hear what a journalist or what an audience says about your work,” he continues. “So it’s a sort of conflict I have. On the one hand I so much enjoy the feedback, that for me is very strong and important part of the process. On the other hand I wish I could let the movie speak for itself and basically be home and resting.”
An erotic psychological drama starring Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson, A Bigger Splash is a remake of Jacques Deray’s seductive 1969 film called La Picerne, which starred Alain Delon. Why this remake? “Studio Canal owned the rights to remake it and we decided to go for it,” Guadagnino explains. “In artistic terms, or creative terms, the idea of these four people being entangled together and fighting with one another and trying to find a way to go away from one another is like a concept of desire that informs our lives. I felt very close to that, and I wanted to explore that.”
The film was shot on the volcanic island of Pantelleria, which lies off Sicily. It centres around rock star Marianne Lane (Swinton) who is recuperating following throat surgery and enjoying a nice holiday with her filmmaker boyfriend Paul (Belgian hunk Matthias Schoenaerts) when their idyllic holiday is interrupted by the arrival of flamboyant record producer Harry Hawkes (Fiennes) and his precocious daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson, from Fifty Shades Of Grey, etc). Marianne and Harry share a past history and there is plenty of sexual tension and the atmosphere is charged with suspicion.
There were some problems with shooting on location on Pantelleria itself during a hot summer, including some kind of discomfort, the wind that blows constantly, the heat. “That was tough,” he admits. But Guadagnino also admits that this was one of the best experiences he has had on a film set, largely due to the cast. “When you have the opportunity to see performing in front of you camera people like Aurora Clement, Dakota Johnson or Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton or Matthias Schoenaerts, it’s a joy, such a joy, that makes you feel lucky,” he adds.
Guadagnino says that he has been in love with Ralph Fiennes as an actor since he first saw him in Schindler’s List in 1993. He has followed his career with great passion and interest, but when he saw the trailer for The Grand Budapest Hotel he saw the kind of levity that set the right tone he was looking for in A Bigger Splash. He approached Fiennes, and the rest is history. This is Fiennes like he haven’t seen him before on screen, a flamboyant, ebullient character who also strips off and dances and swims naked.
“The nudity has to do with clarity, being clever,” elaborates Guadagnino. “There is a position of trust and a position of respect, so it’s not exploitative. When nudity is exploitative you can immediately sniff it. It’s more about commitment to the situation in which these characters are placed into. And the nudity of Ralph is either jolly, funny when he undresses and jumps into the water, or it’s dramatic.”
Guadagnino has collaborated with Swinton on three previous occasions, and he says that she is “a phenomenal filmmaker, a great artist of our time. She is fantastic, and to work with her is to be challenged every moment by her great intelligence and wit.”
Dakota Johnson is probably best known for her role in the erotic drama Fifty Shades Of Grey, which received largely lukewarm reviews. But she has also appeared in films such as Scott Cooper’s Black Mass and Cymbeline that show great range beyond the sexy ingenue. “She’s a great actress,” Guadagnino enthuses. “She’s young, fierce, intelligent, sharp, a beautiful young actress that I love. I don’t see her character as a Lolita. She’s a girl who falls in love with the wrong man and she decides to stick with her man because she loves him. And here she plays a young girl of intelligence and cynicism who wants to try and manipulate people. I don’t think there is anything about Penelope that can be associated with Anastasia Steele [her character in Fifty Shades.]
Guadagnino likes to work with people he has worked with previously. A Bigger Splash has been shot by his regular cinematographer Yorick Le Saux and edited by Walter Fasano, with whom he has worked since 1995. Guadagnino and Le Saux wanted to give the film a sort of sunny, washed out, burned three dimensionality. They shot in 35mm, but found there was great difficulty in determining how to light the night scenes because Pantelleria was devoid of light in the night. “I love Yorick, he’s a great collaborator because we share the same sensibility,” says Guadagnino.
He has worked with editor Walter Fasano since 1995, when they began working on his first short film. They both shared a great love for cinema and instantly became friends. They often had long afternoons of discussion about cinema, and found that they never disagreed on anything. They both preferred to edit on machine rather than on computer. The pair collaborated on the 2013 documentary Bertolucci On Bertolucci, a film maker who is one of Guadagnino’s celluloid heroes.
“I love Bernardo, for me he embodies what a man of cinema is, and his movies have been so influential to me. When it came to the idea of doing something about him it was instant for me. We explored many hours of footage and of interviews with Bernardo over the 45 years of his career. Walter and I watched this 300 hours of footage and then we work it for three years making a sort of analytical tale of Bernardo through time. The editing was such an important part of the concept of the film that I am proudly sharing the directing credit with Walter.
“I am excited both by reuniting with great collaborators who are part of my life and family and to find and meet new ones,” he elaborates. “I like the organism of cinema with the entwinement of life. Like we grow up together and we let new people join us. It’s great, I think it’s endearing, and I love that. That’s why it’s like a family, but other people can come in.”
“I like iconoclastic directors,” Guadagnino admits. He admires filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock – “he’s the greatest director,” he enthuses. He also likes Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, and of course Jonathan Demme, about whom he wrote his thesis when graduating from Rome’s University La Sapienza’s faculty of History and Critics of Cinema. “Nagisa Oshima is absolutely essential to me, Murnau is a director I’m still thinking of a lot, Fritz Lang, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, so many. And then there are the contemporaries that I love.”
Next up for Guadagnino is a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 cult thriller Suspiria, which will reunite the cast of A Bigger Splash. “I saw the movie when I was 14, and I was shocked,” he says. “I thought I want to remake it, even though I didn’t know there was going to be a remake. But now I realise that a remake is, in a way, a homage to the emotional shock I felt watching it more than a literal remake of the film.”