A Bigger Splash
An enthralling if somewhat uneven erotic thriller featuring stand-out performances from Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes.
March 27, 2016
It's with a seemingly devil-may-care attitude that A Bigger Splash indulges in the dreams of many, as Tilda Swinton channels her rock star-like essence into actually playing one, and Ralph Fiennes writhes, dances, swims and just generally throws about all of his charms. With Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson, they form a smouldering quartet holidaying on an island off of the coast of Italy, eating, drinking, partying and enjoying the kind of sun-drenched, picturesque vacation most can only fantasise about. Of course, situations that appear relaxed and people who come across as carefree rarely remain that way under scrutiny.
In loosely remaking the 1969 Italian-French film La Piscine for his English-language debut, director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) teams with writer David Kajganich (True Story) to present a picture of ostensible bliss, then breaks down its many moving parts. Swinton's singing superstar Marianne Lane is recovering from a vocal injury that has left her speaking only in whispers, with her cameraman boyfriend Paul (Schoenaerts) keeping her company. Enter Fiennes' Harry Hawkes, Marianne's ex-producer, ex-lover and whirlwind of a friend who has shared in many of her personal and professional ups and downs. His arrival is unexpected, as is the fact that he has his newly discovered adult daughter Penelope (Johnson) in tow.
The movie flirts with a dark, devious tone, teasing the desire-fuelled tension that simmers between the four characters, particularly in light of Marianne and Harry's shared past, as well as the obvious attraction Penelope quickly harbours towards Paul. Still, there's little that's surprising in A Bigger Splash. The best movies manage to present insights into human behaviour that feel inevitable, relatable and still revelatory, which the movie manages at times. Yet it's equally as fond of simply luxuriating in the company of its characters, and in their lush backdrop, as it is dissecting their relationships.
With cinematographer Yorick Le Saux (Clouds of Sils Maria) ensuring every image looks like it could have been lifted from a postcard or glossy magazine spread, and the main cast as ablaze as the visuals, the feature's affection for both is understandable. The combination of Swinton and Fiennes proves mesmerizing — and while the always-enigmatic former is in her element in a largely non-verbal role, it is the latter that steals the show. If ever an actor could capture the all-round force-of-nature that is Harry, it's Fiennes. That Schoenaerts and Johnson seem somewhat subdued in his shadow is more a reflection of his prominence than of their individual performances.
Accordingly, A Bigger Splash is a film filled with standout, cast-fuelled moments that dare you to try to peel your eyes away: Harry letting loose to the Rolling Stones' aptly titled 'Emotional Rescue', the glimpses of Marianne's past glories, and the glances shared between Penelope and Paul chief among them. It's also a feature in which the triumphs linger, overpowering the less effective aspects, though never quite erasing them. Given the importance of music to the four main players, the end result comes to resemble an album that can't find the right balance between its smash hits and its non-single tracks, but keeps you listening over and over again regardless.