We jump head first into A Bigger Splash with its one-of-a-kind director, Luca Guadagnino.
A Bigger Splash is the latest film from Italian auteur Luca Guadagnino (the man behind the beautiful and critically lauded I Am Love), who brings his aesthetic sensibilities and philosophical bent to bear on this scorching tale of fatal desire and jealousy. Loosely based on Jacques Deray’s 1969 classic La Piscine – which stars Alain Delon at his most arrestingly alluring – A Bigger Splash features Tilda Swinton as Marianne Lane, a retired rockstar whose idyllic existence on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria with her partner (Matthias Schoenaerts) is disrupted when old-flame Harry, played with a relentless and amusing vigour by Ralph Fiennes, arrives with his newly-discovered daughter (Dakota Johnson) in tow.
A motormouth record producer still dining out on his dimming glory days working with The Rolling Stones, Fiennes as Harry is equal parts infuriating and enthralling: a force of nature out to recapture his past and Marianne, he unleashes the maelstrom of impassioned chaos at the center of the movie. To reveal more than that would be to diminish something of the film, but truth be told, the plot isn’t where Guadagnino triumphs here – nor, you imagine, does he want to. Instead, he is a master of atmosphere, of detail, and of the stuff that makes a film truly interesting. There’s the frequent and frank nudity which seems to perfectly underscore the raw passion barely contained the by the characters’ increasingly fragile bonds; there are the richly rendered pasts and memories that highlight Harry’s great inconsistencies and whims of emotion; and there are those strokes of artistic brilliance adding texture and shade to what could, in the hands of a lesser director, have been a trite thriller.
All this is to say nothing of the grandly isolated island of Pantelleria (troubled by an influx of unwanted refugees) that serves as an impartial and sometimes chaotic backdrop to what is, after all, the very small world of these four self-involved character. There’s a lot to enjoy here visually and dramatically, but more importantly there’s also lot to challenge the viewer: a lot which, above all, demands a response.
A famously outspoken and invigorated talker, Luca Guadagnino was true to form as we quizzed him on the complexities of A Bigger Splash and what he set out to achieve with this strange and beguiling movie.
Wonderland: What does Marianne’s silence [Swinton’s character is recovering from an operation on her throat that’s left her partially mute] mean to you in a film so concerned with vocalisation and noise – both spoken and musical?
Luca Guadagnino: What it is is a testament to Tilda’s glorious cunning capacity as a filmmaker because that was her idea. We had a script that was about Marianne Lane being a famous actress and she felt there was something missing there. So I said, ‘what about her as a music person in the same way that Harry is, to stress their closeness as a couple, the legacy of the couple?’…We all found it extremely important that the link between Harry and Marianne was the music. The substance of their connection as music. Then, having established that, Tilda also came up with the idea that Marianne, unlike Harry who has this great capacity with words, should have a sort of impairment that forces her to express herself in another way…So silence is something of a philosopher’s stone for me because I always dream of making movies without dialogue or music and then I find myself in the full flourishes of dialogue and music.
W: What about this generational tension staged in the movie between the Rock’n’Roll era and today?
LG: Rock’n’Roll is really about nostalgia and past and something completely passed away that’s also very now. So, what do you think?
W: Well are you suggesting in the movie that we live in less decadent times now than we did then?
LG: I’m completely uninterested in decadence to be honest. I’m much more interested in revolution or the power of excess given that excess is a committing attitude not a blasé one. So I think your generation suffers from having fathers and mothers who kind of allowed them to do everything and enjoy anything and this unleashing of the enjoyment against the education of the desire…it’s the crisis you’re living in where you think you can do whatever you like and you are bored by the physical experience of doing something. And that’s what this movie is about.
W: You’ve spoken about the island setting of the film as a kind of place of otherness of isolation. But then you incorporate the refugee crisis?
LG: I don’t incorporate anything. I say let’s put these people in Pantelleria assuming that they’re going to have a holiday there. Then you ask, what is Pantelleria? How the wind blows? Who are the inhabitants? What is the temperature…Who comes to Pantelleria and why? Tourists? Some. People who live there and people who come to find a new way and a new life. So when you are honest and truthful to all these elements you put them together and you see how they interact. It comes at the end to the otherness…and how in the end you come to incorporate this otherness into your life or eventually exploit it for your own ethical agenda.
W: So where do you think that exploitation occurs in the movie?
LG: Well it’s a mystery. You, the audience, make your own ideas. I say that more than anything it is about the concept of the other and what we do with it: sexually, politically, anthropologically…what is the other for someone?
W: Let’s talk finally about Paul Bowles, who was one of your key literary influences whilst making this film.
LG: Paul Bowles and Truman Capote were the two people we wanted to infuse in the dialogue and rhythm of the film…The Sheltering Sky is a fantastic book about Americans lost in the malaise of Africa. And in a way we have Anglo-Saxons in Africa in A Bigger Splash because geographically Pantelleria is African…Bowles was tough on the twists and turns of jealousy of everyone involved…that entanglement of attraction and repulsion. I wanted to refresh that Bowlesian sense of doom in the relationship, in the jealousy, in the attraction, in the silent homoeroticism that isn’t exactly pointed out but lingers under the surface of A Bigger Splash.
A Bigger Splash is released nationwide February 12th
Words: Benji Walters