'As a child my parents left me free to explore anything that attracted me culturally. I remember falling in love with the work of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. His work is elegant but rather provocative. There was a girl in my class having a birthday and I gave her the book. It turned into a scandal. My mother was called up to the school Principal and the school demanded that she reprimand her son. My mother said 'no, we will not punish Luca, in fact we are proud of him in appreciating the art of that great book.' My mother didn't actually care for Mapplethorpe at all but she was very respectful of cultural curiosity. I was allowed independence in taste and that gave me the confidence to become a director.'
Luca Guadagnino is a curious man. An intellectual, an avid reader, a commentator on society. He thinks deeply, beyond the surface. He absorbs every detail and gives a 360 degree view of a situation or character. You see the flaws and the beauty in his characters. One minute you want to hug the character, tell them they are the most perfect expression of a human being, and then next you are so distraught by this very same person’s imperfections, their total disregard for the feelings of another, or their careless actions, that you feel like slapping them in the face. When you watch one of Luca Guadagnino’s films you are on a journey, experiencing the full spectrum of human emotion, but presented with such artistry that you can’t for a minute peel yourself away from the screen. How did this incredible artist learn to express such intricacy and depth in the films he creates?
So I ask him.
Luca: “I had the freedom to culturally explore as a child. My father was a professor of history and literature so I was always surrounded by great books. Books have been a great landscape for my life. I read so many books in my youth, even if I didn’t fully understand them. They opened my world.”
Luca was born in Palermo in Italy, however his family moved to Ethiopia when he was a tiny baby. At age five and a half the civil war broke out and Marshall law was inflicted forcing all foreigners to leave the country.
Luca: “I was very young but I have foggy memories of curfew times and having to rush home to be inside before a certain time.”
The family then moved back to Sicily, where Luca experienced his second childhood.
Luca: “As a child my parents left me free to explore anything that attracted me culturally. I remember falling in love with the work of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. His work is elegant but rather provocative. There was a girl in my class having a birthday and I gave her the book. It turned into a scandal. My mother was called up to the school Principal and the school demanded that she reprimand her son. My mother said ‘no, we will not punish Luca, in fact we are proud of him in appreciating the art of that great book.’ My mother didn’t actually care for Mapplethorpe at all but she was very respectful of cultural curiosity. I was allowed independence in taste and that gave me the confidence to become a director.”
And a director he is. Luca is receiving worldwide recognition for his films. He is best known for directing and producing Melissa P (2005), I am Love (2009), and most recently A Bigger Splash (2015), due to launch in Australia this week.
Having recently seen a screening of A Bigger Splash, the film has etched itself into my subconscious. I catch myself thinking about it in between my day to day thoughts.
Emma: So how did this film come about?
Luca: “I was approached to remake a very old French movie called La Piscine, which I had seen as a kid. I wasn’t very attracted to this film but I remember the basic storyline... four people, a pool, tension, sexual jealousy, desire, a murder... and I thought well I can try to make something personal out of these bare bone elements, so I agreed to take on the project but I wanted to write the script from scratch. I chose to work with David Kajganich and we had this endless two month conversation in Los Angeles. We dug deeply into the story we wanted to create and then he wrote the script.”
Emma: “Is this your normal process for creating a film?”
Luca: “No, I see myself as a very flexible and wide open kind of film maker. I love control and I want control and I believe in quality. I adore quality on every single level, whether it is a small art film or a big blockbuster, quality should always be the principal driver upon which you create a film. That is what I am trying to achieve all the time. Think of buying things you desire. Apple create desire driven pieces like the iwatch, and then they will partner with someone like Hermes, the fantastic French luxury brand, to create a piece of technology of extreme high quality in look and functionality. This is innovative. That kind of attitude is interesting to me because it makes the quality for that product the driving force. I want to create the iwatches of Hermes kind of blockbuster films. Something big with incredible quality.”
Emma: “A Bigger Splash, this is a very intense film, I loved it, I couldn’t stop watching. Not your big blockbuster you speak of, very arthouse. I loved the scene when Ralph Fiennes played the Rolling Stones album and everyone was dancing. It was so joyous and cool, and then everything just unravelled into darkness. I felt the pain of all of those four main characters. So what was it that you wanted the audience to walk away with after watching this film?”
Luca: “I think I wanted to give a riff of electricity to the audience, like having a kind of post concert electric state. I like to empower an audience to individually understanding a film. I think an audience can make up their mind. I like a movie that leaves you with a very strong subjective point of view.”
No doubt A Bigger Splash will do just that. An erotic drama infused with style and deception, there are so many layers to this film that it really depends on which layer draws you in and taps into your own beliefs and views around human behaviour as to the type of reaction you might experience. It is a film that evokes discussion. The performances are incredible... Tilda Swinton (Marianne) is an androgynous rock star cult figure in recovery from a throat operation on the Côte d’Azur on the Italian island of Pantelleria. She can’t speak throughout the whole film, her expression is masterfully done through body language and intonation. She is joined by her long time boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a brooding recovering alcoholic, and they seem to be living in a blissful state of love, intimacy and sunshine until they receive a call and visit from Marianne’s former boyfriend Ralph Fiennes (Harry) and his teenage daughter, played by Dakota Johnson. Sensational as a self expressed rock’n’roll man of excess, the sinister, real purpose behind Harry’s visit becomes clear. While playing the charismatic guest, he aims to win back the affection of his former lover Marianne and in doing so sets off a chain of events that ends tragically for everyone. A destructive tale of narcissism and human indulgence. Perhaps a warning around choosing a self absorbed life of excess. It made me evaluate my own life.
Emma: “So Luca, other than the Hermes iWatch style big block buster, what’s the dream for the future?”
Luca: “You will think I am crazy but just to be quiet, my aim in life is to be quiet. You know when you are quiet you have time to think and you have time to rest and you can see things in perspective without any artificial imposition. Just like the great philosophers, the best thing we can do in life is to take action in doing nothing but think. This is what I would like to do.”
Perhaps Luca’s films are more than artistic tales, perhaps they are an expression of his own personal views on how to life a life. A commentary of his own.
Words credited to Emma Scott. Images credited to Julie Adams.