A Bigger Splash is in Australian cinemas from this week and I spoke to Italian director Luca Guadagnino about his latest film…
Matt: I vividly remember your 2010 film I Am Love and it was a breakout film for you that got a lot of international attention. Did you find your life changing a little after that? People were a lot more interested in you and your work?
Luca: For sure. I Am Love gave me the confidence to manage my work and not necessarily follow the rules of Italian cinema. The film allowed me to travel the world and make new professional relationships.
Matt: The film is loosely based on the 1969 Italian-French film Swimming Pool. What drew you to the screenplay and made you want to bring this story to the big screen once again?
Luca: I was attracted by the possibility of revamping the movie because it had a quartet of people entangled in their own nostalgic desire for one another. I felt it was still relevant today and that audiences could relate.
Matt: In my review of I Am Love, I wrote about the stunning visuals. I feel like I could say the same thing here. I noticed a lot of shots of body parts here – torsos, feet, teeth and so on. What draws you to that particular imagery?
Luca: Because I’m a pervert (laughs). No, I consider myself a “voyeur”. It’s a movie about desire and how we latch onto and covet other people. I’m so fascinated by the motion of human bodies and they are truly fabulous objects to portray in film. My next movie is going to feature a lot of dance because I’m a big fan of musicals and again, it’s going to be about bodies.
Matt: I love the way the camera often zooms in or zooms out. Again, I’m really curious to know your mindset when using that particular technique?
Luca: It’s a question of taste. On one hand, there were a lot of films in the 1970s and 1980s where zoom replaced the normal travelling shots. It was a cheap way of avoiding scenes where you had to put a track down and push the camera along. That costs time and money. The zoom became a shortcut for many years. You might remember Death in Venice or The Innocent by Luchino Visconti.
On the flip side, you have Stanley Kubrick using zooms in The Shining but for the opposite reason. It wasn’t to save time and money but it was to express something strongly. This I endorse. It’s like an ultra-vista attitude and I love it. In my next movie, I’m only shooting it with one lens which will be a fixed lens. I have a lot of discussions with myself about how to shoot a movie and which lenses to use. You’ve touched on a delicate subject.
Matt: You’ve worked several times now with Tilda Swinton. Given her increasingly busy schedule, was it easy to get her on board this time around?
Luca: Tilda is a friend, a sister, a partner. You never take her for granted but we are always looking for projects that we can work on together. She’s been in high demand for 20 years but she has a great sense of partnership and I’m really humbled to say that she enjoys working with me.
Matt: It’s funny though how she hardly talks for the whole movie due to her voice. What made you incorporate that particular plot device into the script?
Luca: It was an idea that Tilda had. She wanted the character to express and communicate in a way that wasn’t verbal. That led to a great physical performance by Tilda. It was an inspired idea and I embraced it as soon as I heard about it.
Matt: The opening the film is so free of dialogue and the wham, in comes Ralph Fiennes who never shuts up for the whole movie. What was it like for Ralph trying to stay so hyperactive and energetic throughout?
Luca: We all have friends like that (laughs). Ralph is such a sublime actor. He has an amazing concentration when he works. His character has a manic attitude to life but Ralph’s performance is so balanced and precise. It’s about being high, low, high, low. Harry can be sombre when he’s hit by an emotion.
Matt: Who came up with dance routine? Was that something you helped with or his own creation?
Luca: That was written into the script. We discussed it a lot and Ralph wanted to hire a choreographer who he’d seen on stage in London. Her name was Ann Yee. We discussed in both technical terms and conceptual terms what we were looking for from that scene. We needed Ralph to find a level of confidence and looseness that reflected his life. It was psycho-analytical choreography.
Matt: You tease the audience with brief flashbacks of Harry and Marianne and their previous life together. How do you decide what exactly to reveal? Some filmmakers might leave out the flashbacks while others might spend a lot more time in that area.
Luca: There was a lot of collaboration with the cast and crew. We had longer flashbacks in the script but we shot the scenes on the island first which gave us the luxury of knowing what we needed to fill in the gaps.
Matt: I’ve been to Italy before but not to the island of Pantelleria. How did you settle on that location for the film’s setting?
Luca: I knew the place. I went there when I was 15 years old for a holiday with my sister and I went back a year later with friends from school. I remember the landscape being tough, relentless, beautiful and scary. There were all these contradictory emotions that had stuck in my memory. I felt like I needed a place like that so that it becomes a character that is going to shake up their neurotic quartet.
Matt: The film started in Venice and has done the film festival circuit. Are there plans to take it to the United States for a wider release?
Luca: We sold the movie everywhere in the world long before Venice. It opened in Italy back in November and it came out in the UK in February where it did well. We open in Germany and France soon and then we go to America after that for a May release.