Also: The family lives in a spectacular brutalist Piero Portaluppi villa in the center of Milan that is full up with tapestries, modernist furniture, and a banister straight out of a Fassbinder film. “We imagined the house as part museum, part prison, part castle,” she says. “It’s built for the people in it to behave a certain way.” And all of this luxurious formality is part of the point: The action takes place ten years ago, in the midst of high-capitalist fantasy, scented by Diptyque candles and fueled by Ladurée macarons. “It’s very critical of our addiction to beauty,” Swinton says. “Beauty is tantalizing, that’s the point.” And so the film becomes about nature: human nature, of course, but also the freedom represented by the vegetable gardens and the butterflies and the hills above San Remo, about the happiness available in simplicity.
And simplicity is what attracts Swinton most. It’s apparent in her spartan beauty and her attraction to architectural fashion designers who make big statements with very little (and cause no end of red-carpet debate). But it is especially apparent in her acting. The actress spends a great deal of time thinking about what it means to pretend to be alone when surrounded by the satellite city of a film crew. “I am very interested in a certain aspect of performance, in the idea of trying to affect being unwatched,” she says. “It’s a constant experiment for me. I’m so allergic to seeing acting onscreen. If one has to be banal and think of a favorite filmmaker, mine is Robert Bresson, who so often looks at people who have never seen themselves onscreen and who of course made a film about a donkey, which I think is the greatest performance ever. The donkey. That’s what one should aspire to be: the donkey.”