A BIGGER SPLASH (Italy | France/15A/124mins)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino. Starring Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Matthais Schoenaerts, Aurore Clément.
THE PLOT: Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and her partner Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) are hiding away from the former’s rock and roll lifestyle, after surgery on her throat has put her singing career on hold. Their peace is shattered by the arrival of Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a former lover of Marianne’s, and his newfound adult daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). It is not long before history becomes the present as the four struggle to come to terms with their pasts and their futures.
THE VERDICT: ‘A Bigger Splash’ – named after a painting by David Hockney – is a remake of the 1969 French film ‘La Piscine’. The film also marks the first collaboration between Swinton and director Luca Guadagnino since ‘I Am Love’ in 2009.
Although she does not speak for much of the film, Tilda Swinton seems to reprise her role as David Bowie from his 2013 music video “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” in the flashback scenes of the film. Or she was dressing up as Win Butler from Arcade Fire. Either way, Swinton full advantage of her character’s inability to speak, making Marianne’s desires and motivations instantly recognisable and understandable. As well as this, every time Swinton appears on screen she lights the film up with the grace and poise she brings to the character. On the other side of the coin is Ralph Fiennes as Harry. As motor mouthed as Swinton is silent, Fiennes seems to take pleasure in playing a self centred and emotionally stunted character, bringing joy and jealousy to a wonderful dance sequence soundtracked by The Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue”.
Elsewhere, Matthias Schoenaerts shows a mostly gentle but troubled character in Paul; his chemistry and ease with Swinton being a joy to watch, and Dakota Johnson plays a more world savvy and manipulative version of her character from Fifty Shades of Grey.
David Kajganich’s screenplay rather faithfully follows the events of La Piscine, but the twist of Marianne being unable to speak – other than in intimate moments with Paul – adds a layer of secrecy to the already complicated history between these characters. Add a hint of incest and a suggestion of rape – or statutory rape – and things become complicated very fast. It is clear from almost the outset that we are not going to get answers to all the questions the film poses, but rather than this being an accepted part of the film, it leaves the film feeling unfinished and thin.
Director Luca Guadagnino tries to bring cinematic quirkiness and lightness to a film about love, obsession, rage and jealousy, and while this almost works for the first two acts of the film, in the final act this feels ever more self-conscious and forced as it consistently brings the audience out of the film. The performances are strong, but the pacing of the film struggles to get through the 124 minute running time, and the tone of the film changes so suddenly toward the end of the film as to be jarring.
In all, ‘A Bigger Splash’ is a film filled with wonderful actors and great performances. The cinematography is a distraction at times, but since the story is fairly thin and offers few answers, this is not always a bad thing. The cast deserved better though.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

A Bigger Splash
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.5Great Cast
  • filmbuff2011

    Sicilian director Luca Guadagnino follows up his lush 2009 film I Am Love with A Bigger Splash, which also sees him working again with Tilda Swinton.

    Swinton plays Marianne, a famous David Bowie-like rock star whose voice has weakened, leaving her future career uncertain. She’s recovering while on holidays with her partner Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) in Italy. It’s at this point that Marianne’s former flame and Paul’s friend Harry (Ralph Fiennes) makes a surprise visit. He also brings his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in tow. Harry and Penelope stay over at Marianne and Paul’s villa, eating, talking and catching up on old times. They also explore the local scenery and nightlife. But tensions comes to the surface. Marianne and Harry have a long history together, but she’s now with Paul. Those old feelings start to rise again. Meanwhile, the seductive but-not-all-she-seems Penelope flirts with Paul – leaving both couples dealing with ever-growing temptations…

    Written by David Kajganich from a story by Alain Page, A Bigger Splash is essentially a piece about four characters and their interactions over the course of a few days, set against some beautiful scenery and local colour. The characters are very well written and it helps to have a talented cast to bring them to life. The occasionally naked (!) Fiennes is delightful and surprisingly light here. He’s usually so serious and brooding, but here he gets to let it all hang out as the gregarious Harry. In his scenes with Marianne, who can barely talk, Harry does enough talking for both of them. Swinton gives off that air of otherworldliness that only she can manage with class. Schoenaerts makes an attractive foil for Johnson, who again proves that she’s more than just ‘that girl’ from Fifty Shades Of Grey. A career beyond that turgid franchise looks bright.

    While the cast may be spot-on, Guadagnino seems a little unsure of the tone. A sudden third act turn into a criminal investigation plays out like the Keystone Cops, with the bumbling Italian police unable to see what’s right in front of them. This is re-inforced in the closing scene, which is quirky enough to remain memorable. However, the tone of the film lurches suddenly and the lighter, more fun side takes an unconvincing turn into the shade. Personal wars and verbal conflicts between these four characters are bound to happen here eventually, but do they have to happen so awkwardly? Still, arriving in the frozen tundra of February, A Bigger Splash has that air of a summer holiday dinner al fresco with friends. One that stretches long into the night and is fun, but one that you wouldn’t want to happen too often. Buono. ***