ARTICOLO DI THEGUARDIAN.COM@Andrew_Pulver
Luca Guadagnino simply cannot sit still. One moment his legs are sticking out frontwards, the next they are hooked over the arm of his chair. You can only conclude that his intense writhiness must be something to do with his revving-engine thought processes, as one pronouncement after another tumbles out of him.
And Guadagnino certainly has a lot to say. The Italian film-maker behind 2009’s I Am Love is back with a new film, A Bigger Splash, a remake of the 1969 Alain Delon film La Piscine, a four-hander relocated to the Sicilian island of Pantelleria. The arid, subtropical landscape – within sight of the African mainland – is a striking feature of the film. His I Am Love star Tilda Swinton is back – playing a Bowie-esque glam rocker resting her voice after a throat operation – and Guadagnino has cast Ralph Fiennes as a fast-talking record producer, whose performance includes a berserk extended frug to the Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescue.
Even though Guadagnino says that La Piscine was not exactly his “cup of tea”, he found it “liberating” to use it as the basis for a new film. He says he has his own path, wanting to explore “the clash between people, led by desire”. It is important to “avoid drama … lead the storyline through behaviour”. Rather grandly, Guadagnino says he “agrees with Kubrick”, that “original ideas are not always best”. “Making movies is about control,” he says. “You need to control your narcissism in the first place, and you need to be disciplined enough to understand the reason for the film. You need to follow the agenda of the film, not a personal agenda, or that of the studio.” He thinks for a moment, and says with amusingly elaborate distaste: “Or, worst of all, of the actors.”
Guadagnino talks like this a lot: he’s clearly happy in the role of the auteur-director, with the sweeping – and occasionally gnomic – pronouncements that go with it. They are a rare breed these days, but after I Am Love, and the festival success of A Bigger Splash, Guadagnino would appear to have earned the right.
In any case, he doesn’t seem to have any problems letting actors do their thing, at least as far as A Bigger Splash was concerned: “I cast people who are not going to ‘act’ but are going to ‘behave’.” Swinton, he says, got involved late, but brought with her the idea of making her character virtually mute. Fiennes spent months choreographing his Rolling Stones gyrations: “Ralph is so disciplined and prepared; like Tilda, he chisels things.”
Guadagnino accepts that dealing with the Stones – who are famous for not being especially forgiving in financial matters – might not be entirely in keeping with his aesthetic purity, but says that the band were not in the least bit obstructive; instead, they were “fantastic” and “embraced” the idea. Guadagnino even got script feedback, he says, for a scene in which Fiennes’s character rambles on about recording Moon Is Up on the band’s Voodoo Lounge album. “They said: ‘You can tweak this bit; we can give you a little detail you are missing,’ all that. They were so collaborative. I have total admiration for them.”
The same admiration appears to extend to Swinton, whom he first met in 1995 when trying to interest her in acting in a short film. “We never finished it, but we started a friendship that never dimmed.” Their collaboration goes way back: Swinton came onboard Guadagnino’s first feature, a meta detective story called The Protagonists, which he shot in London in 1998. “Tilda being the great film-maker she is, the contribution she can bring is so deep and extraordinary that it’s a joy to be working together.”
But he swiftly returns to his favourite theme: his dislike of conventional scripts. “I have read so many in the last few years, and they are all about the three-act structure, with the same character arc every time,” he says. “What I like is someone who is capable of giving up the toolbox, and really dig for the truth.” This, he says, is why he discusses ideas with his scriptwriter for months – in A Bigger Splash’s case, the American David Kajganich – “to give the writer confidence in really working out of the box”. During the location scouting and the shoot, he says that he must come to terms with “the defacing of reality”, when the director must “fight narcissism and fight self-indulgence”. “The more you cut, the better it is,” he believes; and then, in the edit, “you start again from scratch, for the third time”.
You’d think that Guadagnino would be respected as a key figure in a resurgence of Italian cinema. After all, directors such as Paolo Sorrentino and Matteo Garrone are fixtures on the international circuit, as well as old stager Nanni Moretti. But, it turns out, you’d be wrong; the way he tells it, Guadagnino is ploughing a lonely furrow, in the face of disapproval and even outright hostility from the domestic Italian film industry. Maybe there’s something in that: A Bigger Splash was – somewhat unexpectedly – greeted with a smattering of boos when it premiered at the Venice film festival.
Guadagnino, darkly, tells me how the actor Laura Betti – famous for her roles in Theorem for Pasolini and La Dolce Vita for Fellini – gave him a warning while they were making The Protagonists.
“She said to me: ‘They will try to kill you in the cradle.’ I did not understand then what she was saying to me. At the time I was kind of arrogant, but in fact the prophecy was right. Everything that goes outside the rules of Italian cinema, has always been cursed.”
Not playing by the rules, it seems, essentially means not having the right family connections. “My father is a teacher, my mother was a telecom employee,” he says. “I come from Palermo, I was raised in Ethiopia. I am homosexual. I didn’t go to film school. There are lots of reasons they are not keen on me.”
He takes the opportunity to have a go at Sorrentino and Garrone; both directors, he says, are produced by mainstream “players”. He says that Garrone’s films – Gomorrah and Reality – are “patronising”, and that he is “suspicious” of Sorrentino’s. He reserves particular scorn for The Great Beauty, Sorrentino’s best foreign-language Oscar winner: “It is indulging the idea we have lost something great in the past; I just don’t believe that.” And he’s actively rude about Moretti: “It’s so sad to see this once-youthful, anarchic director suddenly becoming what he used to accuse older directors of being: establishment.”
Establishment would appear to be Guadagnino’s ultimate insult (“an artist should always be uncomfortable”). And it’s the cue for him to launch one more pop at his contemporaries. “I am more interested in revolutionary beauty than in the great beauty, to be honest. Italian cinema is now mostly a bureau for tourism. We have given up that revolution of the contemporary.”
He shrugs: “I am resilient. I don’t give a shit, to be honest. I keep doing my own stuff, and I enjoy myself.” You can’t ask for much more than that.
A Bigger Splash is in UK cinemas from 12 Feb
Amazon-Box creato da Giuseppe Frattura