A Bigger Splash, 2015
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Starring Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts and Ralph Fiennes
The vacation of a famous rock star and a filmmaker is disrupted by the unexpected visit of an old friend and his daughter.
From the lush opening moments of A Bigger Splash, acclaimed director Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous new drama/mystery/romance, it’s easy to become extremely jealous of the tranquil surroundings on screen: panoramic views as far as the eye can see, beautiful lagoons and oceans glistening quietly in the harsh sunshine, and the wonderful wildlife that surroundings it. But as glorious and enticing as it looks, it’s almost too perfect and the ocean winds sometimes bring chiller climes.
Enjoying such lush surroundings is former rock’n’roll star Marianne (Swinton), on permanent vacation from the razzmatazz and glamour of her life as a musician. Adored across the globe, she has escaped the craziness of her career after a recent operation on her voice, causing her to stay mute for the majority of her days. In tow is her filmmaker partner Paul (Schoenaerts), who is helping with her recovery.
The tranquil surroundings the two share as they enjoy fine wine, food and love are soon met by the winds of a (sand) storm just around the corner. Said storm soars in on the wings of Ralph Fiennes’ Harry, the former manager and lover of Marianne, who has flown in to disrupt the couple’s tranquil escape with his frivolous, avuncular ways. In tow, his daughter Penelope (Johnson), who herself is in need of a holiday from college studies, and who is soon making pines for Paul.
Loosely based on the 1969 Alain Delon-starrer La Piscine, the new work from director Luca Guadagnino is a visual and sensual delight: a cacophony of genres and motifs that Guadagnino beautifully orchestrates, with some affluent but leering camera-work from his DoP Yorick Le Saux, ironically the same photographer of Francois Ozon’s Swimming Pool, for which this film shares many visual choices.
At turns romantic, striking, mysteriously and wicked, screenwriter David Kajganich’s screenplay is the equivalent of a beautiful Italian feast: luxurious, delicious and splendidly good for you. The final act though may be slightly too hard to swallow as it takes some twisty turns that may blind-sides as much as it impresses, but such is the filmmaking on show, that its still impossible to be swept up its more splendourous moments.
Swinton, easily one of the best actresses working today, is once more on stellar form here, and even more impressive given that she is almost mute throughout. Schoenaerts provides a brawny strength to proceedings, while Johnson “pulls as Kristen Stewart” and continues to impress away from the fifty shades of EL James and franchise flouderings. Fiennes though is the standout, a bravura performance that forms a super double-hander with his Grand Budapest Hotel buffoonery. A whirlwind of flirtatious, sarcasm and luminous dance-moves, Fiennes could well be in the awards mix come the new year.
Opulent, enthralling and devious, A Bigger Splash does exactly what the title suggests: beautifully photographed and directed, and performanced at the highest of levels, its one of the more curious films of the year, but also one of its most impressive.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Scott Davis is a Senior Staff Writer at Flickering Myth, and is the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast.