Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love (lo sono l’amore) is a grandiloquent and sensual epos about love, family and legacy, where Tilda Swinton gives perhaps the most idiosyncratic performance of her (very impressive and diverse) career. Guadagnino and Swinton are back in collaboration with A Bigger Splash, which albeit less grandiose, is equally intellectually ambitious and aesthetically courageous – and much more euphoric.
I Am Love is a testament to Guadagnino’s sensibilities as a director who is undeniably rooted in aesthetics; colorfull images, framing used to compliment or enhance the largeness of architecture and aristocracy, light and colors palpable and meaningful in more ways than one. Music is also quintessential in Guadagnino’s work, as it accompanies the beauty on screen with careful precision, but also a bold radicalness; the final moments of I Am Love crescendoes in a bombastic and orchestral moment of truth and revelation.
In A Bigger Splash Guadagnino seems to fully understand his own strengths, and thus he’s able to compose a movie that is unmistakably the result of a single directorial vision, unhindered by personal inhibitions or outside interference, and wholly its own.
Tilda Swinton plays Marianne, a rock star who has momentarily stepped away from the frenzied spotlight of rock-stardom to rest in an Italian island of the Sicilian coast with her boyfriend, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). Their day-to-day is quiet and serene, until an old friend shows up (Ralph Fiennes) with his daughter (Dakota Johnson) and, perhaps unsolicited, moves in to the seaside vacation home. Fiennes’ Harry is eccentric and mad, his aspirations in all things unchecked and unhindered; at all times lustful for the joys life can present to him. As the days go by, and become more and more frantic, so too does the bond between characters change and begin to take new forms, and this never stops until the credit rolls.
A Bigger Splash is in many ways a mirror of Fiennes’ character; imbued with pure and unabashed joyful flourishes. Guadagnino’s decision to focus the movie around a musician allows his sensibilities to really take center stage, as the narrative and characters are at once in tune with the cinematic language. Music is used just as well here as in I Am Love, but now he allows moments of transcendence, were diegetic music is as euphoric for us – the audience – as it is for the characters on screen; a Rolling Stones dance-scene in particular. The music also compliments the Italian island, with its colorfull countrysides and vibrant vitality. It romanticises the island – its hidden beaches as well as its market places and local traditions – in a way that resonate wholly. The many scenes pool-side, a chamber of eroticism and misdeeds, is not only infectious in its superfluous beauty, but also menacing and pivotal; especially for those who’s seen I Am Love.
Now, this review may seem to be no more than tangents on the movie’s flourishes, and that’s because it is the biggest strength on display, but also because the layers underneath is worth uncovering by oneself. Like I said above, A Bigger Splash, isn’t as grandiose as I Am Love, but it is to me personally a much more successful and memorable movie, because as Jack Kerouac so aptly puts it in Satori in Paris: it doesn’t matter how charming cultures and art are, they’re useless without sympathy; and A Bigger Splash‘s euphoric and cathartic presentation invites sympathy – or emotional resonance – more immediately and more openhearted than the almost impenetrable I Am Love possibly could. Will it remain as important and referential seven years from now, I don’t know, but as a contemporary exercise in aesthetic storytelling, it is undeniably loveable.
Listen to St. Vincent’s cover of Emotional Rescue which appears in the films credits!