If Fox Searchlight or Studiocanal ever choose to release the Bigger Splash clip of a completely let-loose Ralph Fiennes dancing and singing his way through the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue,” it’s a fair bet it will go viral — instantly. Fiennes was here in Venice today in support of the competition film that’s directed by I Am Love‘s Luca Guadagnino and also stars Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson. It’s a loose remake of Jacques Deray’s La Piscine, which was also taken for a dip by François Ozon with his 2003 Cannes entry Swimming Pool.
One of the updates to Guadagnino’s version is a lead actress who says almost nothing the entire length of the film. Swinton plays Marianne Lane, a stadium-filling rock star who’s recovering from throat surgery and only speaks in whispers when it’s absolutely necessary. Swinton said the decision to go that route was her own. At the time that Guadagnino approached her, “It was a moment in my life when I didn’t want to say anything.” But, “wanting to be anywhere with Luca and these colleagues” she had to figure out a way to make it happen. “And the one thing that came to my mind was ‘I will come if I don’t need to speak.’ The more I thought about it, I thought it could be a contribution to the huis clos of characters who are all fighting the fact that they can’t communicate with each other.”
Guadagnino chose the island of Pantelleria off the south coast of Italy to set the action for Marianne, boyfriend Paul (Schoenaerts) and Fiennes’ Harry, Marianne’s record producer ex who arrives unannounced with his newly-discovered daughter Penelope (Johnson) exuding far more sexual confidence than Anastasia Steele. Their arrival disrupts the lovers’ idyllic vacation in their sprawling rented villa — with ultimately disastrous consequences.
Current headlines also play a role here — the main actors are sun-kissed and well-heeled while refugees are seen fenced in outside the local police station. The contrast of the island’s beauty and grit is a backdrop that “clashes with these four people,” Guadagnino said.
Reactions have been hard to read. At the press screening I attended there were a lot of laughs, sustained applause and hoots and whistles at the end. But a separate one came with boos. Then this afternoon, each of the team was greeted by cheers at the press conference — although Guadagnino was accused at one point of being “offensive to Italy and the police” thanks to a somewhat farcical scene near the end of the film. There was some applause at the suggestion. But when the director countered, “If we don’t make movies to explore new territory or territory that might be insidious, then why make films at all?,” that was also met with applause, a lot of it.
Undeniably crowd-pleasing, however, was Fiennes’ portrayal of Harry. He’s at once rambling and infectious, but also heartbreaking and tiresome. He’s hoping to get Marianne back and also walks a line of affection and devilishness towards Paul whom he initially introduced to Marianne when their affair was ending. In the standout (even award worthy) scene, Fiennes gyrates and vocalizes along with Mick Jagger on the turntable, moving from inside the living room to outside the house all flailing arms and swinging hips. Fiennes said that when he read the script, “it said that he gets up and expresses himself through dancing.” Smiling, he added, “I’ve never been asked to do that before.”
Italy releases on November 26 this year while Fox Searchlight has set a May 13 date for next year. David Kajganich (The Invasion) wrote the script. Studiocanal has rights in France, the UK, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand, and is also handling international sales. Producers are Michael Costigan, Guadagnino and Kajganich.