A Bigger Splash 

UK Release Date 12th February 2016
Director Luca Guadagnino
Runtime 120 mins
Certificate 15
Reviewer Jo
Reviewed 11th Feburary 2016

The moment Tilda Swinton strutted onto stage in a sparkly jumpsuit as ageing rock star Marianne Lane, in front of an adoring crown, A Bigger Splash had me hooked. A personal highlight from the LFF 2015. Jarring, in your face, unconventional filmmaking set against the most beautiful of Italian landscapes and with a cast that doesn’t put a foot wrong. A Bigger Splash is enthralling and exhilarating filmmaking. 

Marianne and her partner Paul are enjoying an idyllic Sicilian summer – mostly involving being languidly naked and having very hot sex. They’ve got it nailed haven’t they? The reason for this retreat (although who needs a reason to have lots of sex in a Sicily) is that Marianne has lost her voice and she is under doctor’s orders not to speak in case she damages her most vital organ and of course her career. It’s not long into this delightful reverie that a loud plane going overhead and the piecing ring of Marianne’s phone ruptures the silence. This cacophony announces the arrival of Marianne’s former manager and lover Harry as he comes crashing into their lives. Along with is newly discovered Lolita-esque daughter, Penelope. Harry is polar opposite to Paul and also determined, it is clear, to win back Marianne. Couple this with the languid sexuality and suggestive nature of Penelope; painful pasts being desecrated and the lives of this volcanic island’s inhabitants are set to blow. 

A remake of 1969 cult film La Piscine director Luca Guadagnino of I am Love is reunited with multi-muse Tilda Swinton alongside Matthias Schoenarts as her troubled lover, Paul and a maniacal turn by a bearded and toothy Ralph Fiennes as her ex lover Harry. Also along for the fun is Harry’s coquettishly precocious daughter Penelope played mesmerizingly by Dakota Johnson. A Bigger Splash was filmed in the unutterably beautiful mountainous landscapes of Pantelleria in Italy where every vista is breath taking. On Harry’s first night the odd group eat at a hidden hillside restaurant and it is so beautiful and still that one could be duped into thinking Guadagnino was going to give us a nice relaxing time. Let's get this straight - he is not.  

The tension that ratchets up as soon as Harry’s toothy, manic-exuberance bursts onto the screen doesn’t let off. The group’s dynamic seems to be one that if we were spinning a bottle to foresee the outcome of any of the characters in this group, every one would spell danger. Marianne’s inability to speak allows two things: one for Swinton to play with expressive use in other ways, such as silent movie stars of days gone by and the quiet power of ballet dancers; two: to let Harry and Paul try to use her silence as a battleground in their fight over her attention. Of course being Tilda Swinton she nails both and her muted Marianne is beguiling and strong. As the drama unfolds it is clear that Paul is troubled in some way and Harry is keen to exploit this. Add to this the raw sexuality of Penelope who is also keen to prod and provoke Paul and her relationship to daddy Harry that is creeping closer to creepy and well…they’re playing with fire.   

Guadagnino keeps the action going, swerving manically from one sense to another, just as a moment may be lulling or relaxing, we are smashed straight into something that alters the senses altogether. Scenes are reflected in the unerring gaze of mirrored sunglasses. The pool is central to the plot. Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography makes the most of the beautiful surroundings both human and natural, the camera is voyeuristic. There is an abundance of nudity and sex and some of it feels beautiful and some of it uncomfortable. Such is the unruly metronomic nature of A Bigger Splash. The script is funny and non-stop, Harry has endless amusing stories that he likes to tell loudly - of course these aren’t ‘normal’ people and the dialogue keeps it so. There is also a fabulous soundtrack.  

This cast are a tragi-comedy dream-team. Tilda Swinton gives the only convincing portrayal of a rock star that I have seen on screen. Then again I imagine if Tilda Swinton strutted on stage before the Rolling Stones she’d very likely have the crowd eating out of her hand. Let’s face it, Tilda Swinton can do what the fuck she wants and we will all just adore her. That’s the order of things. Swinton’s Marianne is enigmatic but open and utterly fascinating. Watching her veer between Harry and Paul is bewitching; the chemistry between all three is simply wonderful. Schoenarts has perhaps the most low-key of the roles until the last act, but he is fantastic as wounded Paul, letting it all boil away inside him until an inevitable eruption. Dakota Johnson as Penelope was a revelation. I have actually never felt that interested in Johnson as an actor but she is fantastic in A Bigger Splash, taking what could have been a vacuous empty role and filling it with complexity and emotion.  I’m converted, although I am still not going to watch Fifty Shades of Grey. Last and by no means least – Ralph Fiennes. I mean RALPH FIENNES! He is just effervescent, exuberantly mad and brilliant in this movie. The moment his beardy face with a huge maniacal smile is shoved into the audience’s face you just sit up and cannot take your eyes off him. It is a simply stunning, funny and enthralling performance. I guarantee you will never, ever forget the image of Harry dancing like a madman to The Rolling Stones' Paint It Black. It’s cinematic history that is seared into one’s brain for evermore.   

In Short: 

There are some elements that don’t work entirely, the refugee aspect of the story feels a little tagged on, and the ending becomes a touch preposterous but one can and should forgive A Bigger Splash all of this because it is the cinematic equivalent of basking in the sun and being thrown in the pool, love it or hate it, you’ll have no choice but to feel it. It's funny, strangely romantic, sexy and invigorating, the perfect anti Valentines movie. Meraviglioso!

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