Release date: 12 February 2016
Running time: 124 min
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson.
Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Jacques Deray’s La Piscine brings a contemporary flavour to a simple, timeless story of infidelity and sexual desire. An ageing rockstar (Swinton) and her lover (Schoenaerts) retreat to an island off the coast of Italy to relax and recuperate after a trying few months. Sadly their blissful holiday is about to be disrupted by her ex-lover Harry (Fiennes) and his daughter (Johnson), who appear suddenly and without invitation. Tension builds as one drunken night escalates into another, and old passions and grudges begin to emerge.
As with any decent drama, its the performances that put the meat on its bones, and there is some top notch actoring on display here. The ever wonderful and captivating Tilda Swinton, who previously worked with Guadagnino in I am Love, does a stellar job of communicating everything through glances and body language. She’s a joy to watch; her forced silence and long-limbed, semi-clothed body giving her an almost ethereal presence.
Alongside her is fellow British stalwart Ralph Fiennes as her ex-lover Harry, an insufferable champagne-socialist wanker who loves to be the centre of attention everywhere he goes. Fiennes is clearly having a ball playing such an exhibitionist, and revels in everything from extreme Dad dancing, to singing karaoke and gleefully taking his kit off. Schoenarts is the opposite, all composure and repressed emotion; much like his performance in last year’s Far From the Madding Crowd. Dakota Johnson’s Penelope is a bit on the hammy, ludicrous side as Fiennes manipulative and extremely flirtatious daughter, although perhaps this is more a problem with the role itself rather than her performance.
There is a lot to take in here; the beautiful 1960s-esque photography and the stunning location also both prove to be a feast for the eyes. The inherent sensuality of water, the sea and the curves of the hills are mirrored by the near constant display of fleshy, natural looking bodies. Guadagnino pierces this organic eroticism by building an atmosphere of uneasiness tinged with black comedy. Sometimes it works, other times he’s less successful, but there’s always something to chew on.
Set against the backdrop of the Mediterrean refugee crisis, Guadagnino also manages to subtly pierce the middle-class bubble of their villa without resorting to anything too hokey or dramatic. It’s certainly more nuanced than Mike Nichols incredibly smug Closer, or Guillaume Canet’s middling Little white Lies. A story that has been told before time and again, but there’s at least enough here to set it a bit apart from the rest.