On a remote Italian island, rock star Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) are spending their summer making love in their private pool, baking in the sun undisturbed and discovering each other all over again.
It’s an idyllic set up and absolute paradise, until Marianne’s ex-manager Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and lover turn up with his wayward daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson); ready to disturb their peace and tranquillity.
Director Luca Guadagnino’s latest film A Bigger Splash sounds like your average comedy drama about mix matched personalities and happy chaos but in fact it is so much more. Instead, he’s created an erotic thriller that explores the darker consequences of love and possession.
The film works as a wonderful exploration of identity. Marianne and her rock star alter ego is a perfect example of the complexities of perception- who are we if we are not who we have been perceived to be? How much control do we really have over our own identities? Marianne seems to be continuously conflicted by her own sense of identity and who exactly it is she wants to be.
Who is she really without these two impossible men? We surely don’t know, as we have only seen her as Paul’s Marianne or Harry’s Marianna. There are hints, of course, certain looks, expressions, body language and auras that perhaps hint at her true self. However, we’re on just as much of a journey as she is in discovering herself.
Tilda Swinton plays the role so effortlessly, it’s truly a pleasure to watch. She’s graceful and near silent throughout the entire narrative. She oozes sophistication and glamour despite her muteness. However, she adds a softer side that is entirely reflective of our own behaviours around those who care for us.
Moments when Swinton and Schoenaerts display such natural intimacy in how we care for the ones we love, it feels as if our voyeurism is a nerving act of invasion of their privacy. Alongside Schoenaerts, Swinton delivers a clever character study of extremes.
Ralph Fiennes delivers a tremendous performance as the brass, bolshie Harry. He’s energetic, enigmatic and audaciously irritating in equal measure. He delivers wonderful moments of physical comedy that feel entirely genuine, evoking amused and bashful smirks from him loving audience. The image of him flouncing around in his open shirt, swimming trunks and wayward beard is both amusing and brilliantly.
Fiennes plays the character bravely and without trepidation, not flinching at some of the more scandalous subject matters. His relationship with onscreen daughter Penelope, played well by Dakota Johnson, evokes the kind of skin crawling awkwardness that makes you shrink back in our seat.
There are also some brilliant moments between Schoenaerts and Fiennes, great examples of both the physical and emotional rivalry between men. It is no wonder Harry spends so much time unapologetically naked, his limp member a great big “fuck you” to Pauls modesty.
The wonderful thing about all performances within A BIGGER SPLASH is the sense of expertise, practice, dedication and bravery to the development of their characters. Each performance works wonders in their own right but together, these beautiful people are a glorious examples of clashing identities, egos and lusts.
While the fantastic score helps to build the tension, nothing quite prepares you for just how dark a turn this film takes. These glamorous, famous, high class people are torn down by their own sense of possession towards this perceived Goddess that they’re entirely addicted to.
The running time cautiously verges on self indulgently long. Almost as if Guadagnino and his cast are having too much exploring the various visuals. This, however, is a trivial complaint when one is presented with such beauty on screen. Still, no matter how trivial, it is valid in the film’s criticism due to audience engagement and enjoyment.
Visually, the film is delicious. Both Guadagnino and Hazan capture the sheer beauty of the location. The gorgeous silhouettes, those rosy night skis, the clear glistening water; there’s a lot of take in and it’s a real pleasure to experience it.
Guadagnino has a great way of adding little details throughout the narrative that really aide the core themes that run throughout. These include minor details such as the continuous feature of black out sunglasses. They say that through our eyes we witness the soul of a person.
It’s interesting then that Guadagnino so often has his protagonists shielded by these Hollywood shades, literally blocking their eyes and so perhaps metaphysically blocking their true selves. It blends well with the idea of conflictions behind ones of persona.
Along side Guadagnino, Hazan delivers superb cinematography throughout. It’s varied and adapts to each scene with real expertise. Much of the cinematography is rather reflective of Harry’s personality and reinforces him as the catalyst for the film’s core conflict. It’s intense and intrusive, quick paced zooms and sharp close ups; all creating this ominous tension that builds throughout the narrative.
The narrative really does leave it to the final act to throw in any real physical conflict and therefore the eventual violence is sudden and almighty. The shock is certainly enjoyable but it does mean we’re left with perhaps too much time to settle into this back and forth of conflict. One would argue that the real eruption of violence is left a little too late in the narrative.
There’s no denying that A BIGGER SPLASH screams sex, glamour and secrets; an all together alluring set up. However, what’s so wonderful about the film is that there are moments of such sincerity and emotive honesty that it’s easy for a large audience to empathise with both the characters and the story; a near perfect triumph.
[rating=4] | Elly Jones
Crime, Drama, Mystery | Italy, 2015 | 15 | Studiocanal | 27th June 2016 (UK) | Dir.Luca Guadagnino | Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts, Aurore Clément | Buy: [Blu-ray]