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An interview with Luca Guadagnino, “A Bigger Splash” director and Niko Romito, starred chef.

 

On the occasion of the release of “A Bigger Splash” starring Tilda Swinton and Matthias Schoenaerts, back to our interview with its director Luca Guadagnino and the chef Niko Romito, two Italian friends.

Chef Niko Romito and film maker Luca Guadagnino are known for celebrating their beloved Italy around the globe. One, for his exceptional cooking served in a 16th century monastery and the other for his sensual and elegant movies. An interview with two epicureans... 

Left, the three Michelin starred chef Niko Romito, and right, film maker Luca Guadagnino, just back from the Mostra de Venise. 

Portrait by Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello.

 

With his shaggy hair, endlessly animated and passionate nature, Luca Guadagnino is just back from the Mostra de Venise where his latest film was shown. A Bigger Splash is about a former rock legend accompanied by her husband and ex-lover with his (very gorgeous) daughter in tow, on the volcanic island of Pantelleria where desire, jealousy and nostalgia all literally erupt. A dream cast – Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes – brilliantly succumb to the Italian director’s world: smart, powerful, elegant and sensual. Luca Guadagnino is a well-established name in the film business. With Amore – accompanied by his partner-in-crime, Tilda Swinton – he gained international recognition in 2009 (taking part in the Venice, Berlin and Sundance festivals and nominated at the Oscars and Golden Globes). A prolific creator, Luca Guadagnino is an insatiable ogre of culture who nourishes himself as much with opera (he first directed Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi in 2011) as with fashion collaborations (Louis Vuitton, Fendi…). A bon vivant and ‘sensualist’ this towering man has over the last ten years formed a firm friendship with Niko Romito, the young Italian chef who shines with his 3 Michelin stars. His restaurant Reale, is a jewel set within a 16th century monastery in one of Italy’s most beautiful valleys. With Niko Romito himself having just seen A Bigger Splash, Numéro invited these two hedonistic aesthetes to Paris for a passionate and free flowing discussion.

 

Dakota Johnson in Luca Guadagnino’s film A Bigger Splash.

Numéro: What coincidence led a director born in Palermo and raised in Ethiopia to meet a chef established in the Abruzzo region?

Luca Guadagnino: It was ten years ago, I was invited to the festival in Sulmona, a little town in the heart of Abruzzo. And, as is my way – I have to admit to being a real gourmet – I immediately looked up the best restaurants in the region. Niko’s stood out immediately. And while our work and the surroundings in which we evolve are completely different, we became close because we share, beyond a love for good food, the same vision of creativity. I can sum it up in one sentence: less is more.

Niko Romito: I express myself in a language that cuts straight to the essential and this leads to very simple dishes – which paradoxically requires a huge amount of work and discipline. My approach to cooking always starts with the product. I get to know it first in order to offer a dish that unveils its profound being, without any sleight of hand or pomposity. For this you have to try and take away, again and again. My ultimate ambition is for the product to speak by itself.

Luca Guadagnino: It’s the same thing, I hope, with my film making. I like starting my films with a multitude of ingredients to end up concentrating on only three or four essential elements. The title A Bigger Splash is a reference of course to the iconic work by David Hockney. The composition of that painting is also very simple: a few blocks of solid colour, clean cut elementary forms. And yet it opens a world of great depth. 

“We both share the same vision of creativity: less is more.” 

Luca Guadagnino

Assoluto di Cipolle, Serrani Brambilla Photographers, Francesca Brambilla.

In what way does the Italian landscapes and local produce affect your creations?

Luca Guadagnino: What we are, for many people, depends on where we come from. My films are always born from an encounter between men and women and a place. The landscape is never just a postcard backdrop. A Bigger Splash is about characters struggling with the present, and who want to rediscover the legendary past of rock ‘n’ roll. A period when they were young and powerful, when they’d conquered a world in a state of revolution. But that revolution failed, even though its aesthetic remains. The island of Pantelleria was a dream setting. Its silence highlights the sound of heightened emotions. It’s the ideal context to bring out the tensions and desires of the characters… But while Italy fascinates me with its colours and landscapes, and I myself feel profoundly Italian, I’m not attached to any particular place, a homeland. I am a real gypsy. I’ve lived in Morocco, Rome, Palermo…  

Niko Romito: It’s the opposite for me; my cooking owes everything to the Abruzzo produce. It’s linked to its forests, its mountains… its very soil!

 

Is sensuality, omnipresent in Luca Guadagnino’s films, as important to you in your cooking?

Niko Romito:  I would say that my cooking is more mystical than sensual. It was Ettore Spalletti, a very important Italian artist, who described as such. I think what he meant by that is that behind its apparent aestheticism, hides messages born from long and laborious work. It provokes internal sensations that lead to reflection. All of that is of course related to the place in which I create, in this 16th century monastery.

Luca Guadagnino:  In spite of what you say I can assure you that your prawn pasta dish explodes in the mouth like an orgasm! This sudden domination of a flavour that carries you away is profoundly sensual… In my film making, I’m very attached to explaining the whys and how’s of human relations, but I am none the less a man for whom the feelings and pleasures of the senses are essential. We are all, first and foremost, flesh and blood, transported by emotions and sensations.

 

A Bigger Splash by Luca Guadagnino, released on April 6th.

Restaurant Reale, Casadonna hotel, Castel di Sangro, Italy.

 

Interview by Thibaut Wychowanok

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