Guadagnino Makes Splash In Venice

by HFPA September 6, 2015

Luca Guadagnino is one of the more interesting new authors in Italian Cinema. His visual style has been compared to the likes of Visconti and Antonioni and three years ago he made, well, a big splash, with I Am Love, garnering a well deserved Golden Globe nomination. He returns to this festival with the auspiciously titled A Bigger Splash, a remake (although rereading might be a better term) of Jacques Deray’s 1969 La Piscine. That nouvelle vague classic featured Alain Delon and Romy Schneider as the couple whose languid sojourn at a country house is interrupted by an old flame of hers accompanied by his nubile 18 year-old daughter played by Jane Birkin. His arrival sets in motion a plot of interwoven jealousies that simmers to a dramatic denouement.
 
In Guadagnino’s stylish revisiting, the action is transposed to Pantelleria. That Mediterranean island is the frequent subject of recent headlines about the flood of migrants arriving there (or rather, as Tilda Swinton pointed out “these are not migrants, they are refugees, war refugees”). “The idea of doing a film on this quartet on the island was about the ‘politics of desire’ within the group,” Guadagnino explained. “But I wanted to insert another character – a location which had ancestral power and tradition but also the urgency of now and thus contribute to exacerbate the conflicts within the group.”
 
That timely choice has the effect of transposing the narrative to our very present reality. Beyond that, the plot mirrors the original in most respects, including the crucial presence of a swimming pool. The vacationing couple here is composed of aging rock star Marianne (frequent Guadagnino collaborator and muse Tilda Swinton) and boyfriend Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead, Rust and Bone, Far from the Madding Crowd). The interloper, Harry, a flamboyant record producer, is played by Ralph Fiennes in explosive form. The role of his ennui-exuding Lolita-like daughter, Penelope, is entrusted to Dakota Johnson (50 Shades of Grey) who has two movies in Venice this year: she also appears as Whitey Bulger’s wife in Black Mass. Speaking of double-duty, Schoenaerts also has two films on the Lido, playing in the supporting cast of The Danish Girl.
 
The pace of A Bigger Splash is appropriately deliberate, like a scorching Sicilian summer day, and as the sun blazes over the island rocks and gullies, the plot’s slow burn comes to an emotional boil. The presence of Marianne’s ex-lover, although nominally without ulterior motives, inevitably upsets the couple’s dynamic – and so does the sexually charged one of his daughter who has a penchant for suggestively sunning by the pool. As old passions are reawakened between the ex-lovers, new ones emerge between Paul and Penelope and the transgressions, real and imagined, pit the men against each other. Over a couple of days the tension mounts in subtle but inexorable ways. In the end there will be foul play, which draws an investigation by the local police constable (Corrado Guzzanti) whose character is an homage to the regional police novels of commissario Montalbano. But the film is not a thriller, rather a psychological procedural.
 
La Piscine was an utterly French study of sophisticates in the throes of amoral passions. A Bigger Splash, like I Am Love, revels in the style of cinema as much as in its narrative, constructing larger than life emotional drama within the characters. “If we don’t make movies to take risks and to explore potentially dangerous territory, why bother” Guadagnino said to wide applause at the press conference and the film makers certainly did so, going as far as making Tilda Swinton’s character a mute (because of a vocal chord operation), a clear allegory on the impossibility of communicating the characters encounter.
 
It is also a cinephile’s homage to new wave film and in a wider sense to European cinema’s glorious past, the tradition of highly stylized and film making, the kind of introspective and immersive drama that Guadagnino clearly loves and is so adept at revisiting .

Luca Celada

Luca Guadagnino, Director of A Bigger Splash
A Bigger Splash press conference
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Photo credit: Luca Celada/HFPA

Autograph time with Matthias Shoenaerts and Tilda Swinton
Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton meet fans of A Bigger Splash in Venice
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Photo credit: Luca Celada/HFPA

Ever Classy. Tilda Swinton poses for selfie
Who wants Mathhias' pen?
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Photo credit: Luca Celada/HFPA