Interview: Luca Guadagnino – A Bigger Splash

Tom Munday 

One gorgeous Mediterranean location, four sexually charged characters and a myriad of personal and professional problems – what could go wrong?

Dramedy A Bigger Splash provides a funky, sultry insight into the life of a rock-star and the unique personalities around them.  Rock legend Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is sent to recuperate in private after potentially career-altering throat surgery. Along with her toy-boy partner Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), Marianne is joined on holidays by old flame/iconic record producer Henry (Ralph Fiennes) and his estranged daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson).

A Bigger Splash looks into the dangers of nostalgia, with old memories threatening to destroy the group’s scintillating dynamic. This portrait of envy, artistic endeavour, and raw intimacy comes from the eclectic mind of Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino. His resume is jaw dropping, succeeding at a wide array of projects from directing numerous fashion films (for DKNY, Giorgio Armani etc.) and operas to developing booming production company Frenesy Film.

The director, writer, and producer is one of Italian contemporary cinema’s most inventive and surprising directors, ascending from strength to strength with multiple documentaries and features. International success came with 2010, film-festival favourite drama I Am Love, nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Costume Design along with Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes and BAFTAS.

Chatting over the phone, Guadagnino’s enthusiasm and affection for the craft shined through. The filmmaker’s friendliness bowled Hooked on Film over, discussing the film’s journey from concept to completion and the stellar A-list cast involved.

How were you first drawn to the premise? When did you realise this was your next project?

I’m still thinking if it is my next project…no, I’m kidding. I had a great conversation with StudioCanal, the great French studio who came to me with the idea to remake La Piscine (1969). Even if I wasn’t the greatest fan of the original film, I felt there were elements of the story that could be used by me in order to explore themes that are dear to me and also to play with the tools of cinema in a way that I was drawn to.

I wanted to make a movie about relationships, and I did, and I wanted to make a movie in which performance was deep – as much as I was, for instance drawn by great performers in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. So, it gave me the opportunity to put together an amazing cast, to get them to play out – without the restraint of banal drama – what is the nature of relationships.

A Bigger Splash has four of Hollywood’s biggest actors (Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Mathias Schoenaerts, and Dakota Johnson), how did you and the cast form a dynamic on set?

It’s fascinating, there is no exoticism to me about my work it’s all simple – you show up every morning, they go to the make-up trailer, they get ready to be made up, they show up on set, we say good morning, and then we start, and then wrap at the end of the day.

It’s as simple as I said. Then, maybe later in the shoot or even years after, you think of what the relationship was – what was the invisible force that united you – and I think it was trust and the pleasure of one another’s company. I cannot objectify this thing right now because it is too close to the movie.

You put the actors in a lot of unique, out-there situations, how do you, as the director, help them to let their guard down?

It was a combination of things; because they felt the attitude of the filmmaker, the director, was completely non-judgemental and very open, and because the script allowed them to carry these great characters. Everything felt organic, and when everybody feels confident about themselves things come out that are great.

You filmed in the Mediterranean, how did the locations impact the story and production?

I chose to shoot in Pantelleria in the first place, the island in the Mediterranean, because I wanted to find a place that could have challenged the characters that would really, really interact with them in a strong and powerful way. It did in their day-to-day shoot so much that you could feel the energy of the place and it did in terms of the themes, this idea of this rugged other that challenges the sadistic, self-absorption of these people and of obsession.

The film discusses nostalgia and the passing of time, how do you see older trends impacting popular culture today?

We are living in nostalgic times, we are like over-grown adolescents where we are still tying to get back the kind of thrills we felt when we were teenagers and we cannot face adulthood. It is a tragedy that social media is enforcing because we all fulfil the necessity of consumption, it is a tragic and devilish sacrament of the capitol against us. We should revolt against it, nostalgia is bad.

The Academy recently discussed changing its voting system, where do you think Hollywood should go from here?

Hollywood should most definitely realise that the quality pays back and give up the idea that recognition and destruction of complexity is the way to go. I think it is a utopia and it’s a long shot, but still there are great filmmakers out there that challenge the status quo with great results, as you can tell with George Miller and his masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road.


A Bigger Splash is available in Australian cinemas from March 24th 

Images © StudioCanal 2016


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