Venice Film Festival 2015: A Bigger Splash press conference with Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson
Why did you decide to shoot in Pantelleria?
Luca Guadagnino: The idea is not connected to my [Sicilian] origins, it’s because of an instinct I followed when I decided to make a movie about these people [who feel] abandoned during the summer. I thought that the focus should be on the factor that desire plays for these four adults, four different generations and perspectives on the world, all together until the deflagration, it needed another player, a scenario that with its ancestral magnificence and power would punch these four people and put them in a raw confrontation with reality. Pantelleria, with its contrasts and violences seemed to be a perfect setting.
LG: His subtle greatness as a performer makes me refuse the idea that he shouldn’t portray a Sicilian policeman. For us, Italians, used to this great comedian prevents us from enjoying the irony and subtleties of this human – too human – police officer. It’s not a parody. One of the texts that guided us is the Falstaff of Verdi. With his great talent for melodrama, why did he bring his career to a close, aged 80, with a comic opera? Even though the arie becomes ample, with great depth and intensity. In the opera, the singers say in group “everything in the world is a joke!” Where is the joke in this movie? It begins with an image of enormous public intimacy, Marianne in front of loads of adoring fans, and it paradoxically ends with her deciding to be close to someone who she will never get to know fully – that’s the joke.
Besides, if we don’t make movies to take risks, why do we do it at all?
Matthias, your character is more internalised, especially considering the character of Ralph Fiennes, how did you approach it?
Matthias Schoenaerts: To some extent you are always affected by the people you work with, inspired by the people you work with. It’s all about synergy, [the other actors] are an influence on everything I do. There’s action and reaction. When you work you try to bring truth and sincerity to the table. You let yourself be surprised by what your partners are doing. It’s part of the creative process.
LG: The total immersive quality of his performance, the generosity of dealing with a character that has to go very slowly, with minimum variation. But we are surrounded by the drama and Matthias was so great that he didn’t care about the concept of showing off… but (doing that) he does show off!
Usually in movies there’s first an approach to the personality than the body, whereas in this movie you start from the body to reach the personality
LG: Yes, I couldn’t say it any better.
You show us the presence of illegal immigrants in Pantelleria, what was the meaning?
LG: The idea of four people in a house dealing with each other is potentially inapt unless the absurd force of their own desire is questioned by the clash with reality. A force that put them in a position to understand who they really are. It’s a borderland, Pantelleria, and it demands to be understood by these characters, it asks them to ask these ethical questions.
Tilda Swinton: I’d just suggest by the way that we are dealing with refugees and war refugees, can we put the word migrants to the side?
Dakota, what was it like playing a Lolita-esque role? Matthias, how did you play with the contrast inside you? Luca, the pool was the basis of everything, but you used the entire island so the title (A Bigger Splash) is fitting
Dakota Johnson: For me it was a great, interesting and sort of quick experience. I came up in the film quite late and I had little time before starting filming to…figure it out. I wish I had more time but it all worked out. Penelope to me seemed a very hyperintelligent young girl who has this bizarre connection to herself and her sexuality. She’s trying to figure out what that means and how to use it and what it means to be a young woman surrounded by adults who she feels are her peers. She doesn’t have enough life experience to be a peer of these people. I was fascinated by the writing and the story.
MS: Six months before the film started my character came to life. Playing someone who is trying to build himself up again and his relation up again, trying to find a new sense in life. There’s a lot of interesting soul-searching that comes with that. To some extent we all – not to the extent that we’ve wanted to commit suicide – at some point we’ve all had the thought that “I’m done with this, what is this crazy thing called life?” This film on many levels is stuck with this question. Are we moving forward or going back to a poised past? Maybe you’d rather jump back into a stinky pool you know the smell of rather than go to a new, unknown one.
LG: I liked the idea of an island, a place you can’t run away from. It’s the title of a painting that taught me how to interpret art. How its apparent simplicity hides great complexity. Taught how to layer the meaning of an image.
Tilda, was it your idea for your character not to speak? Ralph, tell us about the scene where you dance!
TS: I have a lot of long-standing conversations with Luca about films. We have a variety of fantasies. Some become films, some get to become films. And to be honest, this film wasn’t one of them. I knew he was preparing this film, and I wasn’t going to be part of it. And as things happened, the moment came when plans changed, he came to me quite late in the day. He asked me to be a part of it. It was a moment in my life when I didn’t want to say anything. Even less than I do now. I sort of figured out that I wanted to go to Pantelleria and wanted to be part of this extraordinary performance, the DOP and Walter Fasano, a great editor again. They are a family to me. How would it be possible to me to take part of this scenario? I will come if I don’t need to speak. These characters are all fighting the fact they can’t communicate with each other, with or without words. Harry brings words, words and more words…I proposed it to Luca, not knowing how he would take it. It might have meant that I wouldn’t go to Pantelleria. He said let’s try it. It’s a combination between me bringing something authentic from my life and her identity, particularly in the eyes of Harry, it’s about her voice. To take that away was too tantalising a temptation.
LG: I must thank the incredible head of production from Studio Canal, when we gave him the final draft before shooting, he said “well you know let’s do it”.
RF: I received this fantastic screenplay from Dave and Luca, with this great character, Harry Hawkes. It was written that in a few minutes down the film he would express himself through dancing. I had never been asked to do that before so I said “yes, thank you.”
How many times did you shoot the scene?
There’s a lot in this movie, what was the main focus?
LG: I know a lot of great chefs, it’s important that even if you use a lot of ingredients, you focus on the essence of just a few, so as not to confuse the diner. I wanted to explore the role of desire between adult people and how that clashes with reality. And I wanted to play with a comic tone, which I’ve never attempted before, I have to thank David who created these comic situations that also reach a dark territory. Every film is a bit of an occasion, an opportunity we have thanks to the generosity of those who let us make cinema (financiers, actors, troupe). If you do cinema try to surprise yourself and the people you work with. Try to find something that binds.
Dave, what does it mean writing a movie with Luca?
David Kajganich: I’ve never had an experience like this before. I’ve always worked with studios in the US, creating what they wanted. Luca invited me in a place where we could talk for a month. Rather than quickly nailing down the structure and simplistic characters we did the reverse, we unscrewed everything, the entire machine and built a different engine out of it. We never shut the door when actors, designer, cinematographer came aboard. It’s become more human and more beautiful. I could never go back to the other way.
The editorial unit
Photos: Laura Denti