D: Luca Guadagnino. DP: Yorick Le Saux. W: David Kajganich. Starring: Tilda Swinton/Ralph Fiennes/Matthias Schoenaerts/Dakota Johnson.
Loosely inspired by the 1969 film, La Piscine, Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s new film A Bigger Splash is a tense yet enjoyable experience handled well by its actors.
The film follows David Bowie esq performer Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) as she convalesces in Italy after vocal surgery. Shacking up with her is her younger boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) whose thrown when her former producer and lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes) shows up unannounced with a newly discovered adult daughter in toe. What results is an exploration of past and present and latent desire that pulses through an Italian villa and its swimming pool.
The central joy of The Bigger Splash is to see veteran Fiennes loosen up and play someone vivacious at life whether that is dancing or fucking. He cannot out due Oscar Isaac’s dancing in last year’s Ex Machina, but his character is something fresh for the actor and you can tell. Swinton’s Bowie-esq stage persona is far removed from the statuesque woman she presents in Italy. Her dead mother’s wardrobe she dons for most of the film was designed by Raf Simons the former head of Dior. Yet Swinton does a lot without speaking which gives credit to her face and body. She’s purposeful here and its memorable.
Belgian actor Schoenaerts is quickly a rising talent with studio films like The Danish Girl under his wing. He’s lithe and built like a modern Farmer Oak from Far from the Madding Crowd, but he doesn’t come across as just the favorable beef cake of the month. Dakota Johnson as Harry’s new daughter Penelope suffers as her age and Fifty Shades of Grey fame betray her. Yet she remains the most ambiguous character as her motives or gains are still hazy at the end, a testament to the story and her interpretation at least.
The film falters when it uses flashbacks to emphasize the love triangle between Paul, Marianne, and Harry. Nothing is gained by those sequences and they pull us out of gorgeous Italy, which is shot well by Yorick Le Saux. Not much is explored about Marianne’s fame, which is a nice touch as it is merely the context of the story. But a funny sequence towards the end with a detective reminds us that this life less ordinary is under a microscope.