An Italian English-language remake of a 1969 French film, Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash tries to be a combination of Sorrentino and Hitchcock, an artsy Continental suspense drama. This stylish mystery doesn’t quite succeed in its aspirations but is nevertheless a well-made and very entertaining film, worth watching just for the delicious performances by Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton (with Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson holding up their own as the rest of the foursome).
Swinton and Schoenaerts play Marianne and Paul, a couple taking a much-needed vacation on the remote Italian island of Pantelleria. Marianne is an aging rock star and is recovering from voice surgery. She can’t talk, so this getaway, alone with Paul, is the perfect opportunity to recuperate. Unfortunately, not long after their arrival, Marianne’s ex, Harry (Fiennes), shows up with his daughter, Penelope (Johnson) and begins to take over the vacation. Harry is a manic narcissist who enjoys being the centre of attention and has no qualms about stripping down for a swim in the pool at all hours of the day or night (the pool is part of the villa in which they are all staying).
Despite Harry’s flirting with every woman in his presence, it’s clear that he is still very much in love with Marianne and is trying to win her back from his close friend, Paul (to whom he introduced Marianne some six years earlier). Paul is, understandably, not impressed, especially when he sees Marianne going along with Harry’s every suggestion and enjoying herself a little too much in Harry’s presence. Meanwhile, the beautiful young Penelope is trying to seduce Paul. In the long run, these dynamics and the sexual tension are not a recipe for a good time and eventually things turn dark.
Besides the wonderful acting, A Bigger Splash works because of its fully-realized beautifully-crafted smouldering atmosphere, especially for the first three-quarters of the film. The plot, which is minimal, isn’t as important as the relationships, the emotions and the character development, highlighted by gorgeous cinematography that provides frequent close-ups of the faces and enjoys showing us what’s going on in reflection (usually via Marianne’s sunglasses). The writing is sharp and darkly funny at times and the music is well-chosen. Despite a slightly disappointing denouement, A Bigger Splash gets a solid ***+. My mug is up.