Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson, Aurora Clement.
An erotic psychological drama starring Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson, A Bigger Splash is a loose remake of Jacques Deray’s seductive 1969 film called La Picerne, which starred Alain Delon. Director Luca Guadagnino (better known for the gorgeous and visually sumptuous I Am Love) and writer David Kajganich (the dire Nicole Kidman sci-fi thriller The Invasion, etc) give the material a more contemporary flavour as they work in some topical issues with a mention of displaced migrants and refugees who are flooding into European countries by the boat load.
The film is set on the volcanic island of Pantelleria, which lies off Sicily, and centres around four self destructive characters caught up in a complex and complicated relationship. There is rock star Marianne Lane (Swinton), something of a cross between Bowie and Chrissi Hynde, who is recuperating following throat surgery. She is enjoying a nice holiday with her filmmaker boyfriend Paul (Belgian hunk Matthias Schoenaerts), a recovering alcoholic. Both Marianne and Paul are psychologically wounded and carry mental scars.
Then their idyllic holiday is interrupted by the arrival of flamboyant record producer Harry Hawkes (Fiennes) and his estranged daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson, from the Razzie award winning Fifty Shades Of Grey, etc). Marianne and Harry share a past history. Indeed it was Harry who introduced Marianne to Paul in an effort to get out of the relationship, and he is now full of regrets over that decision. And the sexually precocious Penelope sets her sights on seducing Paul. The atmosphere is charged with suspicion, jealousy, and personal revelations, and there are palpable undercurrents of sexual tension, lust, temptation.
This is a juicy role for Fiennes. This is Fiennes like we haven’t seen him before on screen – lively, brash and flamboyant – and he chews the scenery with his manic performance. He normally has such an intense screen persona, but here he is such an ebullient character who also strips off and dances and swims naked and shows off rare comic timing. It was his performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel that convinced director Guadagnino that Fiennes was suited to the character here.
Swinton has the more challenging role as Marianne, who is largely a silent participant in events. Her character is unable to speak, so Swinton has to convey a wide range of emotions through gestures and facial expressions. Schoenaerts has plenty of charisma and is solid as the brooding Paul.
Johnson’s breakthrough role was as the ingenue introduced to the world of sexual games and b&d in the risible Fifty Shades Of Grey, and here she plays an outrageous, sexually aware Lolita-like adolescent, but her character is a little underdeveloped.
The film features an eclectic soundtrack that includes The Rolling Stones, Harry Nilsson and Captain Beefheart. And Fiennes’ character narrates a wonderful anecdote about working with the Rolling Stones during the 80s, telling an apocryphal story about the recording of the track The Moon Is Up for their Tattoo You album – the story is apparently true, but the Harry Hawkes character and his involvement is not.
A Bigger Splash has been shot on location on Pantelleria by Guadagnino’s regular cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, who gives the material a sunny, washed out, burned look that complements the setting. The swimming pool itself almost becomes a nother character in the carnal edgy drama. The title is also deliberately evocative of David Hockney’s 1967 painting of the same name, and also recalls Francois Ozon’s film Swimming Pool. The itself has something of a European sensibility in its approach to sex and nudity. Guadagnino’s regular editor Walter Fasano uses abrupt cuts to give the film an unsettling and disjointed feel.
But it remains to be seen whether A Bigger Splash will connect with an audience and make a splash at the box office.