Not to be confused with the David Hockney pseudo-documentary of the same name, despite its sympatico love of water and sexuality, this story is about an aging rock star and those she considers part of her closest circle. It is an odd tale with odd people, but compelling.
The film is driven by a solid ensemble. Tilda Swinton (Hail, Caesar!), Matthias Schoenaerts (The Danish Girl), Ralph Fiennes (Kubo and the Two Strings), and Dakota Johnson (Black Mass) converge at a vacation home on an Italian island. Fiennes gets to play one of the most reprehensible individuals I’ve ever seen him portray. But while he makes your skin crawl, he remains utterly above it all on screen, seemingly unaware even though it is almost all calculated in its way. Swinton’s performance is utterly buttoned down in balance to Fiennes’ energy, providing a wonderfully blank pallet to absorb the action around her. Johnson and Schoenaerts have their own bits of spice to add to the mix as well. The relationships and past all get thrown into the pot to simmer. The result feels both realistic and allegorical all at once.
This is one of director Luca Guadagnino’s first features, but the influence of his documentary background can definitely be felt. The structure of how he tells the story is unique, providing several harshly inter-cut scenes of the past for context. And, unlike most fiction, he allows the story to tell itself without explanation or judgement. By the last frames, you are probably left with more questions than answers, which somehow makes it more intriguing, if not entirely satisfying. But, then again, when is life?