By James Mottram

“Every plot has been done already,” Italian director, Luca Guadagnino, tells FilmInk at The London Film Festival. “Every movie is a story that we know already, but for me, the point is the point of view. I’d been asked about remaking this film, and I wondered, ‘Why and how should I remake it?’ It was about desire, so that was the hook for me. This movie was a chance to talk about a suffocating circle of desire… a quadrangular, inescapable playfield of desire.” Adapted from the 1969 French picture, La Piscine – directed by Jacques Deray (Borsalino) and starring Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Maurice Ronet, and Jane Birkin – A Bigger Splash locates its four-pronged incursion into the murky territory marked “sex and longing” on the ruggedly gorgeous but socially unstable Italian island of Pantelleria, which is currently beset by refugees. “It was important that the space in which this desire was happening was one of toughness, violence, and relentlessness,” says Guadagnino. “Pantelleria had these qualities…the sun burns, the wind blows, the dust covers your face, there are no beaches, and it’s a gate in which you are faced with the presence of the other. This place was a fifth character questioning the stability of this quartet.”

“Every movie is a story that we know already, but for me, the point is the point of view.”

This quartet is a wholly unusual and eccentric one. Rock star, Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton, who starred in Guadagnino’s sprawling 2009 drama, I Am Love), is recovering speech-free on Pantelleria after potential career-ending throat surgery, along with her documentary filmmaker boyfriend, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), who has his own demons to battle. Their idyll is disturbed, however, by the arrival of the loud, abrasive, big-talking music producer, Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) – a figure from both their pasts – who has also brought along the sullen, nubile Penelope (Dakota Johnson), the daughter that he never knew that he had.

Luca Guadagnino
Luca Guadagnino

For Guadagnino, however, the glitzy professions of his characters are somewhat secondary. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘Let’s make a movie about celebrities,’” the filmmaker offers. “It’s about the public persona and the private persona, and the fracture between the idea that we have of these personas. It’s about reinventing yourself, and changing, and making choices in order to change. And the change that you learn is a different kind of change to the one that we’re foreseeing. It’s about choices – what do you become?”

As well as featuring Fifty Shades Of Grey star, Dakota Johnson, in another alluring role, A Bigger Splash has also received much attention for its scene in which Ralph Fiennes dances wildly and without inhibition to The Rolling Stones slinky classic, “Emotional Rescue.” The already famous scene was constructed from the ground up. “We needed a choreographer because the improv concept is a really lazy one,” says Guadagnino. “Ralph is such a peculiar, detail-oriented actor that he really needed to design that performance. He worked for months with a choreographer. They came to Italy and we did rehearsals. When Ralph had everything, he could leave himself open and not improvise and be extroverted in a way that was not just the choreography. We didn’t want it to be solely a piece of choreography. I like that people think that it’s completely improvised when it’s not. In terms of shooting the scene, I wanted to remind people of musicals in which there are long takes and wide framing, instead of those close-ups in films like Black Swan where you don’t see the actual act of dancing. You don’t understand anything…many action films, for instance, are about the details, but where is the action? It took Steven Soderbergh to direct the greatest action movie with Haywire. So the concept of space is very important.” It’s a truly compelling scene, and another grace note in Luca Guadagnino’s always unpredictable filmic canon. “I’m very proud of not being categorisable,” the director smiles. “I really don’t like to be categorised.”

A Bigger Splash is in cinemas now.


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