Interview: Discussing A Bigger Splash with director Luca Guadagnino

Luca Guadagnino’s new film A Bigger Splash is a riveting tale of passion, jealousy and rock stars. Larry caught up with the director himself to talk about the film.

Read what he had to say during the pair’s in-depth discussion of the film below.

You took the main bits of La Piscine and you treated it as a blank canvas, fleshing out Marianne’s characters for a modern context or giving the film the layers that the original was sorely lacking. I want to start talking about Marianne Lane, and that’s a character we knew noting about in the original, and you gave her incredible life and you removed some of it as well. Tell me a little bit about what inspired her character and the decision to take away her voice.

Well, I think, we wanted to make somebody who was real and would be really, really resonant in the imagery of the audience as someone really living in their lives. So, we took the decision of making her a rock star because, it was great, because of the nostalgic attitude of Paul and Marianne, there must have been a moment when they were so united and the common ground of coming from music, in a way, helped us pull this off, but, in doing so, we wanted Marianne Lane to be absolutely well-chiseled as a real-life rock-star, even if she doesn’t exist in reality. Then we came to the idea, Tilda [Swinton] came to the idea, that because Harry storms in their life, back, with this kind of manic energy that, in a way, demands, commands, your attention because it’s really infiltrating every single moment of your life with this fever of words. She [Swinton] said, “What happens if Marianne is not about to communicate? What happens if that impossibility of communication leads to a different way of communication?” and that’s how we endorsed Tilda’s idea of Marianne being unable to talk, because of a vocal cord operation, and brought to the table this fantastic energy of silence and words.

Such a limitation to what she is able to do, and yet she expresses so much, and that just shows her talents as an actress. You mention rock music, in the film, I read in a review and I really like this, that it was more of a lifestyle that it represents rather than a musical aesthetic. It’s what rock music represents through Harry and the excesses of it.

Well, we know that Rock and Roll is a specific lifestyle and I wanted to be able to go through the lens of the private and I think it’s fascinating. I like the mechanism, the mechanism of power. All of the great movies about journalism, they can fantastically show what is the mechanism behind journalism. So, in this case, it was about what is the identity of a rock star and someone who comes from the rock and roll world?

And often, as I’ve experienced, the people that represent the rock stars are the ones living the harder lifestyle. Who did Ray and yourself look for in inspiration for Harry’s character?

A friend of mine called Carlin who has been for many years the editor of Rolling Stone Italy, the magazine.

A Larger-than -life person I’m guessing?

Yeah. What happens when a larger than life attitude hits reality?

There’s a lot of real life music that you bring into the film and the stories of the characters

I like that, you know!  When I started making films, I remember, I was gravitating around the young film-makers making films in Italy and in Italy people were doing moves in which you had a table with food and drinks, and you had a fake Coca-Cola can made by the production designer, all this kind of stuff was all fake and I said to myself, “that’s awful, I don’t want to do that”. You have to have the real thing on the table, you want to bring reality and that’s what I tried to do all the time, never to be fake.

The story that you chose, The Moon is Up, is a story that I loved from the film. What gravitated you towards that story in particular? Was it just a  favorite of your own or of the writer’s that you worked with?

Well it was very simple; Harry was 51 so he could have been part of the The Moon is Up world because of his age.  

And it sounded the best! The film title could have been an allusion to the last Rolling Stones record but it is not. Is that just a nice coincidence?

What is it? A Bigger Bang?

A Bigger Bang, yeah. Just a coincidence?

Just a coincidence.

You have named the film after a David Hockney painting. Tell me a little bit about that and not calling it The Swimming Pool or something else.

The movie is not about the swimming pool; the movie is about the catastrophe of the hard hit of reality. The painting by Hockney is a fascinating one, it seems to be a very simple image but it’s super complex. So, I like the idea of that simplicity and complexity working both sides.

That goes through the entire film, I mean, in the final moments we hear about the bigger problems in the world; the refugee crisis and things like that.

How did you react to that?

You were sucked into that world and you ignore everything else, you ignore the rest of the world and in those final moments you are reminded that there are bigger problems in the world than this one family and this one weird force. I really liked the fact that you brought that into it but then you also twist that without, I don’t want to give too much away, but you also twist what fame does as well and fame is what I want to talk about next because how the police treat Marianne in those final moments, the laughter in those scenes was fantastic but there’s also a sense of well then they probably know what’s happened or they’re pretending they don’t because she’s famous.

We’re being sold this concept that an aristocracy slowly decayed after the French revolution and has become irrelevant only to become again relevant as a new kind of aristocracy, an aristocracy of celebrities and then sometimes that aristocracy of celebrity intertwines with that aristocracy. Think of the British Royals who are relevant not just because they are royals but because they are famous and they can fit the world of the imaginary that comes from spying on the lives of people who are celebrities. We can’t avoid it and looking at the red carpet, you know what I mean.

There is! I mean there’s such a fascination with celebrity in the same sense of, I have thought about it like that but not so well articulated, in terms of royalty. Was that also one of the reasons that Marianne became someone famous?

That was from the very beginning onwards. Marianne was an actress, a famous actress, she was a sort of famous drama actress. She was one of those women that you can, in a second, name. Okay, lets make a movie about that kind of actress being on holiday. Also being an actress was a sort of a false lead because in a way, it brought to the table a concept of narcissism and representation that we didn’t want to have with Marianne where there is the roughness of the rockstar that I like the most.

And then Penelope comes in and brings in a whole other world of topics to talk about. You chose though to keep what happens between her and Paul a mystery, you can guess but it’s a mystery, as it was in the original film. What brought on the decision to keep that the same as the original?

I don’t know, is it the same as the original? I haven’t seen the original since I was 16.  I don’t know.

It’s kept as a secret as well then, they go away to the lake and you don’t know what happens but you assume that something happens.

In the original I remember that he leaves Marianne to go away with Penelope.

Oh at the very end of the film?

Yeah.

But earlier in the film when they go to the lake, like they do in the film.

Do they go to the lake in the original?

From memory, yeah. I re-watched it briefly before the interview but there you go another playful coincidence. But obviously by bringing a certain twist at the end of the film there are other connotations ot her character and the relationship with Paul and what she brings to the scene. Can you tell me a little bit about her character?

Penelope takes the position of the observer and also she pretends to be able to be the manipulator. She is someone who thinks she can manage fire but fire burns her.

There’s connotations throughout of incest and there’s dabbling with pretty heavy topics with her as well.

Movies have to be very honest and we have to try to be tough and, to be honest and to be tough and to be committed we are pretty complicated creatures we human beings and I’m not going to shy away from the complications.

It gives you one of the best scenes in the film though, when Harry screams at the top of his lungs “I’m not fucking my daughter!” in the middle of the streets just to make a scene.

Did you recognize the great cameo we had in the movie at that moment?

No I didn’t

He screams that line and there is someone coming and [they take] a look at him?

I didn’t catch who that was

It’s James Ivory. He plays himself. James Ivory on holiday.

Is he credited as James Ivory plays James Ivory?

Yes

That’s great. The last thing I wanted to talk about are some of the more aesthetic choices in the films, unpredictable cinematography and music lies throughout-

Did you like the cinematography

Loved it – but unpredictable. What I liked about it is that it gives you the indication that you’re watching a thriller. It has those sort of shots that say ‘something just happened!’ Or the music is saying ‘something’s happening!’ But you don’t know what that is. It’s almost thriller-esque without watching a thriller. Were these decisions made in the editing room or before filming started.

Both. You have to be like a general with understanding how to approach the battle looking at the map and finding as much intelligence as you can about the enemy.  Then, when the general is on the ground he has to be able to change his mind given what the reality of the situation is. As a general, you plan, you strategize, you go to do things then you have to be open to what comes up in reality and in the editing room you again rewrite it.

Did anything change significantly once you hit to the editing room?

We got to a process a bit like a diet. You have to be picking off the excess.

Trim the fat, as they say. Finally, I read that you’re keen to reunite this cast for another remake.

That’s a bullshit news that I don’t know where [came from]

Oh it’s not happening, no?

It’s crazy.

Just one of those things

I mean, the notion that I ever said…I mean I’m working again with Tilda & Dakota but not the entire cast. But I could love again to work with Fiennes.

He’s marvelous in the film. He’s so entertaining. As someone who spends a lot of time writing about and working with people in the music industry it reminds me way too much of too many people

I’m happy to hear that. It’s very spot-on.

It’s very authentic. Even knowing what happened in La Piscina I didn’t know which way you were going to take it.

Fabulous. That’s good news.

I hope everyone in Australia sees the film

Let’s hope so.

A Bigger Splash releases in Australia on March 24th 2016.

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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