By David Elliott
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, served fresh each Friday.
APPETIZER (review of A Bigger Splash)In 1969 the young, nubile Helen Mirren widened many eyes (notably James Mason’s) as the juicy lass on an Aussie isle, in Age of Consent. In 1982 Susan Sarandon was the siren sexpot on a lusty Greek isle, in Tempest. In 1987 Jacqueline Bisset did more seasoned vamping on succulent Rhodes, in High Season. Dakota Johnson – the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, who began as bikini bait in 1975’s Night Moves – tries hard, using some nudity and sultry, savvy stares. But in A Bigger Splash she can’t match those past temptresses, nor the powerful adult triangle of her movie.
Johnson plays Penelope, 17, recently re-united with her father Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a rock music producer whose attentions can easily seem suspect. Most suspicious is randy Harry’s former lover and star, the rock goddess Marianna (Tilda Swinton), who has come to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa (famed for Giuseppe Tomasi, the last Prince of Lampedusa, although his great novel The Leopard was not set there). Marianna is there to heal her damaged vocal cords, and to find pleasure with her stud lover, the photographer Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). Swinton, with her smart, tomahawk face and long, sleek body, more than makes up for barely speaking. While she rasps in whispers, her eyes act eloquently, and her orgasms sound like her rock muse is having a swell vacation.
Her brio is easily matched by Harry, who at first seems like a boorish party animal, then is the real life of the party. Goaty and goading, his wit makes Paul appear sensible but dull. Whether diving into the pool naked, or taking over a karaoke club, this is a new Fiennes, not the glum Nazi of Schindler’s List or the gentle, blind diplomat of The White Countess. A carnal carnival, Harry’s antics shame Pierce Brosnan’s in Mamma Mia! (Brosnan was simply shameless). We can guess that Harry’s inner Zorba will revive the old sparks with Marianna, but the actors make their sex heat human and suspenseful. The island is a little tacky, the police are preoccupied with desperate refugees from Africa, but the story stays close to the emotional tangles of these sybarites. They’re virtually refugees themselves, like the fevered flotsam of a disintegrating Stones tour.
Director Luca Guadagnino made the acclaimed, impeccable, at times pretentious I Am Love. This looser film has holiday energies, rich in sunlight, sweat and hot, salty desire. The nods to Roberto Rossellini’s moody classics about foreigners in Italy, Stromboli and Viaggio in Italia, don’t become scholastic. All the elements flow, fomented by Swinton and Fiennes, who offers her a fine salute: “When the space ships come, she’ll be right out in front.” The pool climax (partly a nod to Jack Hazan’s 1973 doc A Bigger Splash, about David Hockney’s most famous pool painting) is fairly amazing. It’s a scene best discovered by each viewer.
SALAD (A List)My choice of 12 very good movies set entirely or mostly on islands (with their dates and directors): Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (Bunuel, 1954); I Know Where I’m Going (Powell, 1945); I Am Cuba (Kalatozov, 1964); Cast Away (Zemeckis, 2000); From Here to Eternity (Zinnemann, 1953); Zorba the Greek (Cacoyannis, 1964); High Season (Peploe, 1987); Stromboli (Rossellini, 1950); Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (Huston, 1957); The Naked Island (Shindo, 1960); Conrack (Ritt, 1974) and The Guns of Navarone (Thompson, Mackendrick, 1961).
WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)At least once in his life, Orson Welles (in his prime, 6’3” tall) aspired to play a short man. In postwar France he planned to film Cyrano de Bergerac with producer Alexander Korda: “We were going to do all the sets with big doors and high door knobs, and so on – so I’d look very short, because I always thought Cyrano should look up at everybody.” Also, “I discovered a wonderful thing about Coquelin, who originated the part, which is that in every act his nose got shorter. So of course, I was going to do that.” (From Barbara Leaming’s fine Orson Welles. Alas, the film was not made.)
ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)For Harry Dean Stanton the climax of his greatest role, in Paris, Texas, came at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival: “Harry Dean advances up the red carpet past reefs of paparazzi. His smile suggests, without smugness: about time. The Great Supporting Actor had claimed the full stellar screen. Claire Denis, a Paris assistant, felt something amazing at the Cannes screening: ‘I could feel the breathing in the room, and then people crying. This is something very rare.” (From the Stanton/Paris, Texas chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, now available via Amazon, Kindle and Nook.)
DESSERT (An Image)A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.
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