A Bigger Splash (2015)

  • Time: 120 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Mystery
  • Director: Luca Guadagnino
  • Cast: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson, Ralph Fiennes


In “A Bigger Splash”, the lives of a high profile couple, a famous rock star and a filmmaker, (Tilda Swinton and Matthias Schoenaerts) vacationing and recovering on the idyllic sun-drenched and remote Italian island of Pantelleria are disrupted by the unexpected visit of an old friend and his daughter (Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson) – creating a whirlwind of jealousy, passion and, ultimately, danger for everyone involved.


  • Seduction and destruction are the twin engines of A Bigger Splash, a glorious slice of trashy sunshine noir that teems with both sexual intrigue and unexpectedly comic touches. The film is both a remake and update of Jacques Deray’s 1969 La Piscine, which featured French icons and former lovers Alain Delon and Romy Schneider as a sun-drenched couple whose idyll is interrupted by her former husband and his daughter (Maurice Ronet and Jane Birkin).

    The lovers this go-round are played by Tilda Swinton and Matthias Schoenaerts. Swinton is Marianne, a David Bowie-ish rock star who has retreated to the volcanic island of Pantelleria to recover from a throat operation. Paul, her lover of six years, is a documentary filmmaker and a former alcoholic. They spend their days having sex in the swimming pool of their holiday villa and sunning themselves on a nearby lake.

    The arrival of Harry (Ralph Fiennes), Marianne’s ex-lover and record producer, brings more than a little chaos to their Eden. For one, Harry is nothing so much as a bear hug in human form – all-encompassing and on the verge of being suffocating. Words waterfall from his moth – do they know about this out of the way restaurant located on the grounds of a cemetery, here’s an amazing woman who makes the best ricotta, did you hear about the time I worked with the Rolling Stones? Harry has no filter and, while some of his conversations may be innocuous irritations, they can also be insinuating and unmooring: Marianne must be worried she’ll never get her voice back, surely Paul won’t mind if the fridge is stocked with some alcohol, whatever happened to that documentary Paul was working on; ah right, Paul’s been busy looking after Marianne, it’s only fitting since Marianne took care of Paul after his suicide attempt which, according to Harry, is the most impressive thing about Paul. Marianne may be the rock star, but Harry is the true performer, a knowing provocateur intent on causing trouble.

    Equally provocative is Penelope (Dakota Johnson), a nubile nymphet who is Harry’s newly discovered daughter. Her presence amps up the volatility in the group, especially after we learn that Harry is the one who brought Marianne and Paul together. Correction, he gave Marianne to Paul and now he wants her back. Will Penelope tempt Paul? Is she fair trade for Marianne? Is she even Harry’s daughter? Their uncomfortably tactile rapport would seem to suggest incest.

    Screenwriter David Kajganich is surprisingly faithful to the plot points of Deray’s film, but his wise alterations render A Bigger Splash an almost entirely different film. The dynamics between and within the quartet have been refreshed, strengthened and complicated, and the pivotal scene between Harry and Paul maintains the original’s tenor but tempers it with more ambivalence and a hint of homoeroticism. Director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) is generous with the sex scenes and the display of male and female nudity is bountiful, but at no point does it feel lascivious or gratuitous. Guadagnino employs a variety of old-school European touches – languorous pacing, crash zooms, overhead shots, shredded transitions, aggressively unsubtle music cues – that appear jarring but contribute to the overall oddity of the film.

    Guadagnino’s muse Swinton, Schoenaerts and Johnson are all wonderful, but Fiennes steals the show. To say this is Fiennes as you’ve never seen him before is a gross understatement. Something seems to have awakened within Fiennes since The Grand Budapest Hotel. Usually introverted in character and refined in technique, the Fiennes here is nothing short of extraordinary. Harry’s not a particularly easy character to play, but Fiennes conveys his larger-than-life joie de vivre with unfussy ease whilst also locating the desperation driving the exuberance. His extravagantly energetic dance to The Rolling Stone’s “Emotional Rescue” has to be one of the year’s highlights.

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  • (RATING: ☆☆)


    JIM’S REVIEW: Assembling a cast that includes Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton and younger actors like Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson, having a creative director like Luca Guadagnino, and shooting the film on location in picturesque Italy, seems like an ideal meeting of the minds. Yet this psychological thriller has no thrills or suspense. When such talent is wasted, the disappointment lingers like bad breath after a hardy garlic-ridden meal.

    Nothing really happens until an hour into the film. Up until then, it’s lots of mindless conversation mixed with gratuitous nudity and elegant looking Italian cuisine. The plot, if that is what one needs to call it, involves a rock star named Marianne who cannot speak due to doctor’s orders, Paul, her young handsome lover, and an unexpected visit from Marianne’s former lover, Harry, and his possible daughter, Penelope. (Actually Lolita would be more accurate.) Do this interlopers have an ulterior motive? Is Penelope whom she seems to be? Is the overt symbolism and sexual tension real or imagined? How often must Mr. Fiennes show his penis to gain our attention? (Often, it seems the actor is a bit of an exhibitionist…though his performance is the most entertaining part of this artsy film.)

    The film lays down the basic framework by showing the mysterious side of these hedonistic socialites but everything is so ambiguous and, in the end, the enigmas are all that is left. The screenplay by Alain Page and David Kajganich establishes the characters well but their interrelationships remain a muddle and the actions of these four self-absorbed sensualists do not make much logical sense. The director’s lethargic pacing of the lifestyles of the rich and famous becomes a crashing bore.

    A Bigger Splash is more of a belly flop of the highest order. GRADE: C-

    ANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: jadepietro@rcn.com

    Visit my blog at: http://www.dearmoviegoer.com

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