A Bigger Splash (2015) Directed by Luca Guadagnino. With Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson.
Luca Guadagnino’s loose remake of La Piscine depicts the kind of holiday you might dream of in your worst nightmare. Of course, that’s a contradiction in itself, which is perhaps a word that can be suitably applied to sum up our emotional response to the characters and events that take place in this rock n’roll-infused tale of a tangled love rectangle in the sun.
Tilda Swinton plays Marianne, an ailing rock star unable to speak as she recovers from a throat operation, on a summer vacation with her partner, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). The film opens with shots of Marianne taking the stage of a massive arena, appearing like a female David Bowie to the roaring masses. It’s an effective contrast to then plant her on the remote Italian island of Pantelleria, enjoying the seclusion that her fame so clearly requires.
With a peach of a script by David Kajganich, we’re introduced to Ralph Fiennes’ Harry, a ball of unfiltered charisma as the contrite ex-lover of Marianne, intent on shoe-horning himself back into her life despite her new relationship with Paul. Harry has in tow his formerly estranged daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), who brings a coy sense of ambiguity as a potential lure for Paul. The fascination of the film is embedded in the contrasting motivations of each member of the foursome.
Despite the idyllic locations, Luca Guadagnino oversees an organic-feeling film that avoids making us feel like we’re watching a holiday brochure. Perhaps that’s symptomatic of a director shooting in his homeland – the ability to capture beauty without appearing to be trying.
The enigmatic nature of Tilda Swinton is maintained by the way her character hardly speaks, while Dakota Johnson exudes a come-and-get-me sexuality found mostly absent in Fifty Shades. As Harry, though, Fiennes is the the standout of the piece, bringing home an uncomfortable amount of honesty, that, given the circumstances, plays both sides of curiously admirable and head-slappingly cringe-worthy. Though the story might prompt a faint reminder of Jonathan Glazer’s simarlarly-themed Sexy Beast, it’d be remiss to dwell on that for any length. There’s a sense of eroticism and sexual tension felt throughout, as well as a few joyous moments dotted around prominent themes of regret, jealousy and desire. 4/5