We explore Dario Argento’s Suspiria, his 1977 horror classic, and its loose remake by Luca Guadagnino, from 2018. We’ve never seen either, although Argento’s film casts a long shadow – those who’ve seen it never forget it, and it’s easy to see why. Its visual design is bold, imaginative and beautiful, the images it creates extraordinary, its violence heightened and wild. José loves it, literally wowed by it, captivated by its cinematic flair and interesting casting. But, Mike argues, it’s a film that offers nothing beyond the aesthetic, uninterested in its own characters or story, which leaves him cold.
Our responses to Guadagnino’s remake are reversed entirely. For Mike, it’s superior: ambitious, keen to mine the threadbare original for thematic depth, and laudably attempting to weave together generational guilt, dance, institutional corruption and women’s bodies into a complex tapestry, although one which requires too much audience participation to complete. José thinks he’s giving a pretentious work of ego far too much credit, is turned off by the dance scenes, annoyed at the lack of connection he finds between its wider themes and central coven, angered by its grey, wintry colour palette and dry cinematography… in fact, he’s angered by all of it! Now he knows how his friends felt as he valiantly tried to argue them into appreciating Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, which he loved, but which many of them greeted with similar hostility.
The original a cult classic, its remake a very different take on the core premise – both are worth watching. But if our responses are anything to go by, your mileage may vary considerably.
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We pick at flaw after flaw in a film we sincerely enjoyed! Drew Goddard’s post-noir, post-Tarantino, post-Hitchcock thriller is an oddball, a delightfully playful collection of stories about secrets and regrets and temptations and damage. A fabulous ensemble cast is split up and paired off in all sorts of ways, histories are exposed, deception is currency, violence is brutal and shocking. And it all happens on one rainy night in a broken old motel in 1969.
We have few issues with Goddard’s screenplay, which, but for the exception of one or two characters who we reckon could have been given a little more flesh, is creative, clever, witty, and energetic. But as a director, we find him lacking – as José phrases it, he has no instinct for cinema. It’s a significant problem in a film that’s building upon and pastiching entire genres and movements of cinema.
We go back and forth on some of the performances, though they’re primarily good, and Jeff Bridges and Lewis Pullman in particular are just perfect. Mike appreciates that the film understands when to pull the rug out from under you and when not to. We agree that it’s destined to become a cult success, the type of film you want to know if your friends have seen. And we like trifle.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
Ralph Fiennes is the worst dancer in the history of the movies and demonstrates an admirable lack of vanity in showing it off at every opportunity in A Bigger Splash: he’s very endearing. The film itself is an old-fashioned ‘art-house’ movie that I nonetheless liked very much.
Tilda Swinton plays Mariane Lane, a Bowie-esque rock singer who’s lost her voice. She’s recuperating in an Italian Eden with her partner of six years, Paul de Smedt (Mathias Schoenaerts), a former alcoholic, now on the mend. They’re enshrouded in a cocoon of love and sex, sun and contentment, when snakes sidle into Eden in the form of Harry Hawkes (Raph Fiennes), Mariane’s producer and former lover, and the grown-up daughter Hawkes has only recently been made aware of, Penelope Lanier (Dakota Johnson).
As is to be expected from the director of I Am Love, A Bigger Splash is about love and it offers a nicely complicated view of it. Hawkes is out to woo Mariane away from Paul. Mariane is contented with Paul but still has feelings for Harry. Harry could happily fuck any of them. Penelope is a temptation not only to Paul but to her own father. Paul and Harry have a deep friendship but might yet fight to kill.
The film evokes quite a lot of film classics, some of the settings and existential dilemmas are borrowed from Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse (1958) and Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960). The basic plot is a take on Jacque Deray’s La Piscine (1969), though neither Swinton, Johnson nor Schoenaerts quite convey the horny sizzle that Romy Schneider, Jane Birkin and Alain Delon were able to evoke there for Deray. I am also reminded of the 1973 documentary Jacques Hazan made of Hockney and named after his famous painting, the original A Bigger Splash, and which I mainly remember from seeing the poster as a tween and finding it so alluring and forbidden. This the film doesn’t quite achieve either, despite all the nudity.
This A Bigger Splash is about love, but also about existential despair amongst the rich as they eat freshly-made ricotta and frolic naked by day on the Mediterranean and by night by their own handy piscine to take full advantage of the moonlight. Whilst the rich try to find the right hillside restaurant known only to locals, masses of refugees wash onto the shores, many dead; those alive get to be imprisoned; those not imprisoned get to meander through the hills in search of food and shelter as they inadvertently terrify the rich. Money and celebrity win out but the rich and famous themselves are shown to be not without feelings nor immune to tragedy.
All the actors are great for different reasons: Fiennes energises the film with his good nature, his self-knowledge and his lack of vanity each time he steps into the scene. Swinton is particularly beautiful here: in some shots she looks like a very young Kate Hepburn, in other like Bowie, in others like ageing Eurotrah; she barely speaks throughout and mimes a great performance. Schonaerts has a marvellous confession scene at the end where we see Paul break down and confess to Mariane and where tears seem to pour out of his skin. Johnson is a marvellously knowing Lolita.
A Bigger Splash is ambiguous, symbolic, it’s very interesting in how it narrates time, and it offers an interesting critique of contemporary European culture. It’s a film that well fits Pauline Kael’s sneering description of some sixties art movies as a ‘Come-dressed-as-the sick-soul-of-Europe-parties’. I liked it very much.