-Dakota's part is almost at the end-
Midway through “A Bigger Splash,” the latest hedonistic trip from the Italian director Luca Guadagnino, Ralph Fiennes’s character, Harry, puts on the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” album and starts to dance. His shoulders twitch, his body flails, and in a sort of drunken ritual set in the middle of a luxurious vacation home on an island off the coast of Sicily, he tears through the house, his awkward movements getting bigger and more daring — the music propelling him into a state of almost fearsome abandon.
It is a climactic scene for Harry and the other characters in a film in which the body and its capacity to revel in all the senses — be it through music, food, sex or the heat of volcanic rocks — are pushed to the extreme.
Based loosely on the 1969 French New Wave thriller “La Piscine,” or the “The Swimming Pool,” the movie, which opened May 4, stars Mr. Fiennes as an outlandish music producer and the ex-lover of Marianne Lane, played by Tilda Swinton. A rock star in the vein of Chrissie Hynde or David Bowie, Marianne has had surgery on her vocal cords and has traveled to the remote island of Pantelleria to recuperate with her current boyfriend, Paul, a much younger filmmaker (Matthias Schoenaerts). But when Harry and his recently discovered daughter, Penelope (a Lolita-esque Dakota Johnson), pay an unexpected visit, much sex, emotional tussling and intrigue ensue on a vacation that goes violently awry.
With the migrant crisis looming in the background, the brutal natural beauty of the island becomes a sort of fifth character. But music, particularly by the Stones, also plays an outsize role. “I wanted to create a movie that is rooted in the nostalgic world of rock ’n’ roll,” Mr. Guadagnino said by phone, explaining that Marianne, Paul, Harry and his daughter “are the last to enjoy the freedom of the rock ’n’ roll revolution, a revolution that was about endless enjoyment, it was meant to never finish. So what happens when the party ends? Or when one person doesn’t want it to?”
The film’s debut at the Venice Film Festival last year was notably contentious — booed by some Italian viewers who were reportedly displeased with the depiction of a star-struck local police detective but largely impressing English-language critics. There was “something fitting about that divided response,” A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote, since the film “is about foreigners behaving badly on Italian soil.”
Befitting a film about four strong but very different characters, Mr. Guadagnino and his stars each brought ideas to the project that somehow melded into what The Guardian has called “a chamber piece of sexual tension.”
Studiocanal approached Mr. Guadagnino, who is probably best known in the United States for the lush romance “I Am Love” (2010), also starring Ms. Swinton, about remaking “La Piscine” as part of an effort to give new life to works in its extensive library. As Ron Halpern, Studiocanal’s executive vice president for international production, explained the thinking: The film “was very iconic but something very pure: four people in a beautiful spot and someone is going to die. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a new version of that movie today?” (Fox Searchlight is distributing the film in the United States.)
The studio chose Mr. Guadagnino, Mr. Halpern said, because “I Am Love” dealt with “complicated romantic relationships, and it deals with death in this contained sort of rarefied European world. He has the right tone, style and taste, and he doesn’t judge his characters.”
For Mr. Guadagnino, “La Piscine” was only a jumping-off point. “Originally, I wasn’t game,” he said, acknowledging that he hadn’t even finished watching the original when he started on his adaptation. But he soon saw the project as another opportunity to use sensual experiences to explore the unspoken aspects of relationships.
Ms. Swinton helped put the emphasis on the spoken and unspoken when, as a condition of participating, she insisted her character be unable to talk. “I suggested this to him as a challenge,” she said. She thought the initial script had too much dialogue. She didn’t want it to be “about two articulate people throwing words at each other.”
She added, “I like the idea of that kind of mess and the human disruption” that not speaking would bring.
She added: “At the same time, the challenge to me was what is it you need to say? Every scene was an endurance test, trying not to talk or trying to endure Harry’s relentlessness. But by not talking, she could maybe interrupt in a different way.”
For Mr. Fiennes, the movie let him indulge in a lack of constraint. “Harry was a very liberating part to play,” he said. “He’s someone who doesn’t want to be contained by social norms, which is maddening to everyone else, alternatingly fascinatingly maddening and fun all at the same time.”
For the dance scene, a choreographer helped loosen him up, and they practiced in a cinema on the island. The physical release, he said, was essential. “We all have the potential to be monsters, but we recognize the monstrosity within us and still have compassion and kindness. There’s something very Dostoyevsky about it.”
Ms. Johnson also described Penelope as a “dark little monster of a girl,” but took pains to avoid completely sexualizing her. “I wanted the contrast between her behaving like an adult and playing with these adults emotions,” she said, “but also feeling very young and alone and scared.”
The island brought out the characters’ darker sides. “When people go on vacation,” Ms. Johnson said, “they let their guards down. It’s as though they’re on another planet, they lose their minds and behave like animals.”
That “setting up of an atmosphere and marinating the audience in it,” Ms. Swinton said, is central to Mr. Guadagnino’s approach. “Luca and I long ago coined for ourselves an approach, to give the audience a place to hear or smell or taste, that’s very much a part of his work.”
She likened the film to “creating a novel, after awhile, people are in it.” She added: “You’re not just looking at the screen, you’re reaching for the sun cream. That’s Luca.”