When four overly complex characters are thrown together, in a claustrophobic environment in the middle of summer two things are going to happen: someone’s going to get sunstroke, or someone is going to die. I’ll let you guess which story plays out here…
A remake of the 1969 psychosexual drama LA PISCINE this film explores themes of sexuality and human animal behaviour. Aging rockstar Marianne Lane (terrible name for a rockstar) is relaxing on some picturesque Italian island with her hunky boyfriend, both content with sunning themselves in silence after Marianne’s vocal cord surgery. Enter Harry, former boyfriend of Lane and all round good time guy and his daughter Penelope, she of very little clothes. As the film progresses further into Act 2 the microcosmic world created between these characters explodes. Without wanting to give too much away it becomes clear that no one is quite who you thought and everyone’s true colours are revealed.
Pantelleria, the southern Italian island in which this film was set glistened in every shot. Saturated and beautiful, it created a warm and rich atmosphere, and provided the perfect serene backdrop for the unfolding drama. I would also like to get my hands on whoever was responsible for Marianne’s wardrobe. Her casual-glam ‘look’ was sensational, emulating the French Riviera looks seen in 1960s cinema, perhaps a nod to the film’s original setting (on a personal note I would like to know where all these wonderful dresses were sourced, am willing to spend a large amount of my yearly pacheck).
The two British leads (Fiennes and Swinton) are spectacular in their respective roles, no denying that. As always Swinton has an effortless grace and sharpness about her, that juxtapositioning of her characterisation that she always does so well. It is a true testament to her that she could spend the majority of the film completely mute and yet still have the same powerful impact. Fiennes is on top form, a complete opposite to roles we have seen him in of late (anything very very serious). He pokes fun at English mentalities, at himself – and we love him for it. His complete confidence with himself and his ability to allure despite being a balding, portly, kind of cringe, dad-dancing has-been is hysterical to watch. He was about the only likeable character in the film (even with semi-inappropriate relationship with his daughter Penelope played by Dakota Johnson). The boyfriend Paul was played by the insufferably boring (in my opinion) Matthias Schoenaerts who I felt lacked all degrees of emotion in his performance. Perhaps it was just me, perhaps my distain for him clouded my judgement of the character, but I felt it lacked any real clout or necessity. Penelope was the most unlikeable character however. An early scene of her seductively eating a fig set up her role as the deviant hell bent on causing trouble in this otherwise peaceful villa. Her character only becomes more vile as scenes go on, which I actually think Johnson plays very well. Nice to see her out of her recent typecast as ‘innocent’.
The film watched like a good 2 Act play, and the only think that helped it translate on to screen was its vibrant aesthetic. The narrative felt ultimately purposeless. I left the cinema not believing or caring about the characters I had just seen. Perhaps that was the point. It was more important to focus on what this film was representing and less on what it was saying. A truly great arthouse film and an interesting character study most definitely, but not necessarily an interesting film.