Award-winning artist Justin Anderson’s debut feature “Swimming Home” has its world premiere in competition at International Film Festival Rotterdam. Variety has secured access to the first clip from the film.
The film, an adaptation of Deborah Levy’s 2012 Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel, centers on poet Joe (Christopher Abbott) and war photographer Isabel (Mackenzie Davis), whose marriage is dying when Kitti (Ariane Labed), a naked stranger found floating in the pool at their sunny holiday villa in Greece, is invited to stay. Oscar nominated Lebanese actor-director Nadine Labaki plays a significant role in the film as does emerging actor Freya Hannan-Mills.
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In 2014, Anderson directed “Jumper,” a short inspired by Pasolini’s “Teorema,” about a man emerging from a pool and standing naked in the window during a family dinner. A friend saw the film and suggested that he read Levy’s novel. The book resonated with Anderson and he contacted Levy. They lunched and talked about surrealism, Freud and Cocteau, and to Anderson’s surprise, Levy offered him the book’s option, which was previously with Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films.
Anderson took the book to his former shrink and they did Freudian analysis on the characters. “I certainly didn’t have a plan. But I did have a feeling about the book that was very strong,” Anderson told Variety, adding that it made him hark back to the classic French films about “discomfort in a beautiful place,” like “La Piscine,” “La collectionneuse” and “Pauline at the Beach.”
The book also had a “sense of the uncanny,” which Levy discussed with Anderson over walks on London’s Hampstead Heath. “When the characters do things that don’t make sense, I really liked it. When I read about Isabel, it’s like, I have no idea why she’s doing this. And I thought that was really interesting, as a central character, not to know the motivation. And to keep that covered I thought that was really interesting,” Anderson said. “And also, the book was very visual, it had non sequiturs, and these strange visual things that I just felt they fitted into the kind of framing and the work that I did.”
Running alongside the film’s primary narrative is the Crab Club, a dance world where the real-life and a meta-world collide, choreographed by Candela Capitan. The film is also erotically charged with plenty of nudity but the idea was not to make it about sex, Anderson says. “The film is a lot about desire… a holiday feeling of desire. Going back to the book, there’s always a hovering desire, but it’s never a pleasurable one. There’s a feeling of desire and malaise at the same time,” Anderson said. “Desire can work on many levels but I don’t think the film is about sex. When people read the script, they immediately go, ‘Naked woman in the pool, it’s about a male fantasy.’ And I was like, no, it’s about something much more interesting and more difficult to pigeonhole.”
The film is also political, but not overtly so, as Anderson’s screenplay changes some of Levy’s original text to reflect contemporary realities. “It’s about how we go through our lives surrounded by traumas and what we hold within ourselves. What I’m trying to do is examine the inside. We’re surrounded by traumatic stories, and how do we negotiate that with ourselves in our comfortable lives? For me that’s the question worth asking about ourselves,” Anderson said.
The film is an Anti-Worlds, Quiddity Films, Reagent Media and Heretic Production in co-production With Lemming Film. Producers include Andy Starke, Giorgos Karnavas, Emily Morgan, Marcos Tellechea and Paula Linhares.
Bankside Films is handling international sales. Bankside Films, WME and UTA are co-representing U.S. domestic rights.
Watch the first clip from the film here:
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