“I like to do peculiar,” says A Bigger Splash director Luca Guadagnino. “It’s great to do peculiar.”
The Italian filmmaker is talking about his relationship with Tilda Swinton, star of four of his feature films. In their latest collaboration she plays a rock star recuperating from throat surgery with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) on a remote island halfway between Sicily and Tunisia. Their tranquil time, however, is shattered by the arrival of Harry (Ralph Fiennes) her former record producer and lover and his Lolita-esque daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Soon into the visit the sunny Mediterranean days take a dark turn as their shared histories bring up some ghosts from the past.
In the new film Guadagnino throws a peculiar twist Swinton’s way by making her character largely mute, forcing her to rely solely on her face and eyes to complete the character.
“We are very dear friends,” he says of Swinton. “We love one another completely. The pleasure of one another’s company is so strong, so unstoppable. Also Tilda is such a courageous performer. That combination makes everyday an adventure, new and funny and tough and great. Also, I think what we do together is very peculiar.”
Swinton is spectacular but A Bigger Splash is worth the price of admission just to see Ralph Fiennes, Lord Voldemort himself, strut his stuff to disco era Rolling Stones.
“I am a big fan of Ralph Fiennes,” says Guadagnino. “I have been loving him since I saw him in Schindler’s List. I saw him in the trailer for the Grand Budapest Hotel and I found this kind of levity that made me think he’d be
perfect for Harry.”
In one long scene Fiennes unleashes some of the wildest dance moves since Elaine Benes in what must be his loosest on-screen performance ever.
“Everything started with the brilliant script by David Kajganich and the description of how this man loses himself to the dance,” says the director.
“Starting from there Ralph proposed to me to work with a choreographer from London. We met her and decided it was good for her to let Ralph find something wild within him. Let him be loose with his own body and have confidence with his own movements. I described the world the choreographer and Ralph went into as psychoanalytical choreography. It was about unleashing and having the confidence to unleash. It wasn’t choreography that was staged gesture by gesture. It was about creating that flow.”
A Bigger Splash is a romp — a lusty and lurid thriller with worldly people, drugs, drinking and some startling nudity.
The film’s nakedness, Guadagnino says, “is about being truthful to the story you are telling and the characters you are depicting. We are talking about four people on an island entangled in the web of desire. People who come from rock and roll, people who come from a sort of elite world, people who are completely liberated in their own skin even though they are completely chained by their passion. They are people who get naked. For me it is not a contrivance. It is the answer to the question, What would they wear in a place like that, doing things the way they do?”
Next time around, however, don’t expect as much skin. “I can’t wait to make a Victorian movie with people dressed all the way up to their necks,” he laughs.