“A Bigger Splash” – Luca Guadagnino

Although A Bigger Splash will only be released in Belgium on April 6th, the film premiered in Kinepolis Antwerp last Friday, on March 11th. The hall of the cinema complex was filled with impatient fans, mostly female though, because the one and only Matthias Schoenaerts was showing up together with the Italian director Luca Guadagnino (Io Sono l’Amore, 2010) to introduce the film. We still like to call Matthias ours, a Belgian actor in heart and soul,  but he spends most of his time abroad, acting in big Hollywood productions like The Danish Girl (Tom Hooper) and Far from the Madding Crowd (Thomas Vinterberg).12821481_784537185011366_6528864467573304711_n

A Bigger Splash is a remake of the 1969 French La Piscine by Jacques Deray (with Romy Schneider and Jane Birkin!), but with a modern 00’s touch and a couple of new plotlines. Personally, I am not quite sure yet, whether I should call it a drama or a thriller. Certainty is, that it is a film replete with intrigues and sexual tension. In the Guadagnino-version, the world-famous rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) retreats for a holiday to the sunny Italian island of Pantelleria (near Sicily) to recover from a vocal cord surgery. She seeks rest together with her lover and documentary-maker Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is still fighting against an alcohol addiction. They seem perfectly happy on their own, until Harry and Penelope show up. Harry (Ralph Fiennes) is Marianne’s producer and ex-lover, Penelope his thought-provoking daughter.

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Still from “La Piscine” (Deray, 1969)

 

The actor who clearly steals the show is Ralph Fiennes, already established in Hollywood for many years, with his caricatural performance as Marianne Lane’s record producer. His acting is so over the top, what actually makes it so good, promiscuous and equally affecting. Harry is an exhibitionist alpha-male, who came to the Island with a clear purpose, namely to seduce Marianne again. The  physical and emotional attraction between them is undeniably still there. His so-called daughter Penelope is the most mysterious of them all. Their almost erotic father-daughter relationship increases the tension, but what you mostly wonder about is who she really is and why she hides essential facts for the others. (No, I won’t spoil anything!)

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The setting and cinematographic style is what makes the film so exotic and the sexual tensions so acceptable. Guadagnino spends a handful of time on showing the beautiful Italian landscapes and the glimmering sun on the island. Just like in the French Original, the swimming pool of their luxurious villa is the symbol of lust and male competition and functions as a justification of provocation. The deep blue colour of the water and the extensive dark-light contrasts throughout the film turn A Bigger Splash into a real beauty.

Guadagnino also pays attention to the local cultural heritance by shooting a scene where the 4 of them visit the local carnival of San Gaetano. That specific night out serves as a turning point, after which the couple Marianne and Paul seem to get more involved in the exhibitionist and provocative way of life of both father and daughter.536921155738_10021110_biggersplash2_large

Unfortunately, Tilda Swinton fails to convince us in the rock star episodes. They look commercial and are the least powerful of the entire film. This subplot appears to be too Hollywoodian in contrast to Guadagnino’s mainly Italian realist narrative and cinematographic style. Nonetheless, A Bigger Splash is a perfect synthesis of Hollywood and European cinema.

“Belgica” – Felix Van Groeningen

On February 28, the long anticipated feature film Belgica by Felix Van Groeningen premiered in his hometown Ghent. Fans and industry were all eager to watch this semi-autobiographical feature film, although he claims that none of the film’s aspects are based on true events and that any resemblance is coincidential. Van Groeningen grew up in Charlatan, a bar in Ghent on which Belgica is based.SHG_Belgica_15.jpg

Belgica is Felix van Groeningen’s latest and already 5th feature film (He was nominated for an Oscar with The Broken Cirle Breakdown in 2012) The film is about 2 brothers, Jo (Stef Aerts) and Frank (Tom Vermeir), who own a bar together called Belgica, where things get out of hand and they slowly, but clearly lose themselves in sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

First of all, the cast displays some of van Groeningen’s favourites, like Titus De Voogdt and Johan Heldenberg as supporting actors, but had leading parts in some of Van Groeningen’s earlier work. Stef Aerts and Tom Vermeir, who play the 2 brothers, are a perfect match, which makes their performance so much more authentic as if you they were really related.

When it comes to credibility and authenticity of his films, Van Groeningen is the ‘Master of Drama’. Belgica is entirely spoken in the Western-Flemish dialect, and it’s hard to distinguish the Western-Flemish actors from the others, like Stef Aerts, who is actually from the very east of Antwerp (Turnhout). The natural acting of the entire cast makes it hard not to sympathise with both brothers and experience how they get swept up in the Belgian nightlife. We’d like them to succeed so badly, that we cannot have mixed feelings when Frank, the oldest brother, seems to be torn apart between the Belgica and his wife (a part performed by Groeningen’s real life partner Charlotte Vandermeersch) and son. Belgica is a story about chaos, and perfectly directed chaos is what you get.

12304536_750803098386491_6446367715282654999_o-30cpb10ewwj20ufy1etkp6.jpgBelgica‘s biggest asset is definitely its soundtrack composed by the famous brothers David and Stephen Dewaele A.K.A. Soulwax.They came up with 15 vibrant and at times unsymphonic songs by fictitious bands, like The Shitz with its charismatic lead singer Davy Coppens (Boris Van Severen). All these are performing bands in the film. The Dewaele-brothers went the extra mile for this one by composing an eclectical mix of different genres ranging from acoustic rock to electro. Honestly, although not all the songs were my cup of tea, I really looked forward to the Belgica-afterparty. The music is very promising and in perfect balance with the narrative structure and atmosphere.

In addition, very remarkable is Van Groeningen’s use of colours. Whenever the party in Belgica is on, the colours are as vibrant as the film’s soundtrack, but grey and dull colours seem to take over once the mood is less optimistic, or when the scene is set at home instead of in the brother’s favourite ‘place of destruction’.

Film technically, Felix Van Groeningen has built up his own band of brothers throughout the years consisting of producer Dirk Impens (The Broken Circle Breakdown, De Helaasheid der Dingen,..), cinematographer Ruben Impens (idem), screenwriter Arne Sierens (Dagen zonder Lief) and his editor Nico Leunen (who also did Ryan Gosling’s Lost River in 2014) and their co-operation is not without impact. Van Groeningen is by far Belgium’s most influential director of his time in narrative and visual style.

Check the website of Belgica for more info and pictures.