A BIGGER SPLASH
Rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) and filmmaker Paul, (Matthias Schoenaerts) are vacationing and recovering on the idyllic sun-drenched and remote Italian island of Pantelleria. They are interrupted by the unexpected visit of an old friend, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) - creating a whirlwind of jealousy, passion and, ultimately, danger for everyone involved.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The elements in A Bigger Splash seem repetitiously familiar: an idyllic vacation on a small island in the Med, a romantic couple with money and fame, and an intervention by an old flame. The beauty of the women's bodies and the splendor of the location are meant to seduce us, and that is ironic since that seduction is as shallow as the characters. Well, perhaps with the exception of the tragic Harry, a somewhat grotesque figure portrayed with enormous energy and zeal by Ralph Fiennes.
But even Harry is only defined and restricted by his refusal to let go of the relationship with rock star Marianne (Tilda Swinton), despite repeatedly telling her and her current lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) that he 'gave' Marianne to Paul. The other characters are all one dimensional and the story feels contrived and derivative. They are all foreigners in a simple old European village, as this sub-genre demands, but all their interactions are forced and clumsy and inauthentic.
Dakota Johnson makes a good fist of Harry's daughter Penelope, but she has nowhere to go with her insolent, teenage-angst-ridden and rather slutty persona. Johnson tries to use feminine mystique as a cover, but she is let down by the material.
And the material takes swings in tone that disorient us and reduce the credibility of the scenario.
The story pivots on a single conceit: old lover (and some sort of previous showbiz associate) Harry turns up unexpectedly to intrude on Marianne's retreat of a holiday following vocal surgery. She can't talk. Her career is in jeopardy. His protestations of love seem oddly out of synch with his boorish behavior. It is certainly hard to believe Marianne ever loved this man.
Also hard to believe the Italian characters, notably the policeman who turns out to be a Marianne fan, nor the exploitative inclusion of a dozen refugees behind wire, claiming some sort of contempo relevance the film doesn't deserve.
The editing provides only questions, not answers, especially the flashback scenes to recording studios and a rock concert where Marianne and Harry have a pre-show altercation. It serves only to put Marianne on the concert stage before vast numbers of adoring fans.
Perhaps there is relevant context here in that filmmaker Luca Guadagnino is a big Tilda Swinton fan: he made a doco about her in 2002, Tilda Swinton: The Love Factory. In 2009 he made I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton. His admiration for Swinton has skewed his artistic judgment because he casts her here as a rock star - but that is just a label. Swinton is miscast. Exotic stage make up and a big stadium full of noise are not enough. Like much else in the film, this character lacks authenticity. And it does Swinton no favours.
Review by Louise Keller:
Carnal pleasures and temptations are integral to this intriguing psychological drama in which intricately bound relationships reveal darker undertones beneath the frivolity. Alain Page's story has changed somewhat since Jacques Deray's 1969 film La Piscine in which St Tropez was the setting for sex, sun and sizzle. Francois Ozon's Swimming Pool (2004) also comes to mind. Here, the volcanic Sicilian island of Pantelleria is the hideaway for Tilda Swinton's rockstar Marianne Lane and her filmmaker lover Paul (Belgian hunk, Matthias Schoenaerts), where much of the action takes place around their villa's swimming pool. Luca Guadagnino, who directed Swinton in 2009's I Am Love has created a wonderful ambience in which we are cajoled along by the sense of fun and sensuality before the murkier aspects of the relationships come to light.
Crucial to the plot is the establishment of the characters and the nature of their push-pull relationships. Flashback fragments are tossed here and there - almost as a tease - revealing only titbits of information to allow us to understand the characters' histories, how they met and the way their involvements evolved. The fact that one crucial piece of information is left until last to be revealed makes the plot jigsaw even more powerful. The opening scenes portraying public and private moments are as dramatic as the tensions underlying the relationships. Marianne is seen on stage elated before an outdoor audience of thousands. Sunbathing naked before passionate lovemaking in the pool with Paul follows.
The unexpected arrival by Ralph Fiennes' extraverted music producer Harry and his Lolita-like daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) curbs the spontaneity of Marianne and Paul's sex-charged relationship; there clearly is plenty of history between Marianne, Harry and Paul. Flashbacks reveal it was Harry who introduced Marianne to Paul after their own 6 year relationship 'was done'.
In a film where there is no shortage of dialogue and the characters have much to say, it is interesting that Swinton's Marianne has been written without a voice - her rockstar is recovering from a throat operation and she spends most of the film gesticulating and whispering. As a consequence, the way she responds in the film's climactic scenes is almost shocking. She looks stunning and Bowie-esque: her long elegant limbs draped in designer garb that makes her look as though she has just stepped off a catwalk. Schoenaerts has oodles of chemistry - it is hard not to melt under his gaze - while Fiennes delights in his exhibitionist role that requires him to strip off frequently and plunge into the pool. This is a different role for Fiennes and he is better than good as the obnoxious Harry. Johnson is quietly sultry as the provocative Penelope, who falls in love 'with every pretty thing'.
Music plays a big part in creating mood - the discordant sounds and jarring intervals change the mood from playful to ominous. The striking setting also contributes greatly. Tension builds as the intimate nature of the different relationships play out. Listen for the awkward silences in the outdoor dinner scene after Paul and Penelope return from a local waterhole while Harry and Marianne stew in their own guilt.
True to its title, the film delivers a bigger splash than expected - with a large dollop of passion that propels everything, including a refugee subplot. For me the biggest surprise is the ripple effect that the film delivers, leaving us with plenty to consider in hindsight.
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A BIGGER SPLASH (MA15+)
CAST: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts, Aurore Clement, Lily McMenamy, Elena Bucci
PRODUCER: Michael Costigan, Luca Guadagnino
DIRECTOR: Luca Guadagnino
SCRIPT: David Kajganich (story by Alain Page)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Yorick Le Saux
EDITOR: Walter Fasano
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Maria Djurkovic
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: StudioCanal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 24, 2016