A Bigger Splash
This review first published in the Sunday Star-Times, 6th March 2016
A remake of the 1969 French film La Piscine, four storming performances lie at the heart of what makes A Bigger Splash a riot of a summer art-house movie.
Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive, Michael Clayton) is as effortless as ever in her portrayal of Marianne, a famed rockstar recovering from debilitating throat surgery whose Italian holiday is disrupted by the arrival of her erstwhile lover Harry (an utterly intoxicating Ralph Fiennes, loosened up like you’ve never seen him before) and his newly found daughter. As Marianne’s current young paramour, the hunky Matthias Schoenaerts, strives to retain his favoured position (Harry’s needling of the grown man he calls “the Kid” is sharply played), the tension is neatly ratcheted up as a battle for devotion and attention ensues. But as with many films boasting a French provenance, events rapidly turn even darker than anticipated.
As he did with I Am Love (also starring Swinton), Italian director Luca Guadagnino allows the audience to live vicariously in the world of the rich and famous, where lounging beside tiled swimming pools and dining al fresco is taken for granted by the four beautiful people whose emotional inner-wrangling delivers all of the narrative drama. He underscores their bourgeois malaise with a brilliant soundtrack (both orchestral and pop-cultural) and keeps the narrative mosing apace.
Expertly acted, the nuances in character development are superb – although Fiennes talks a mile a minute and prances around in the altogether (one central scene in which he takes centre stage is worth the ticket price alone), his drug-addled record producer also manages to provoke our sympathy. As the pouty daughter Harry has only just discovered, 50 Shades of Grey’s Dakota Johnson shows enormous promise, and Schoenaerts wears his character’s wounded past with admirable restraint.
Where I Am Love descended into melodrama at the end, A Bigger Splash just about manages to keep its head above water. It’s not remotely subtle but it certainly is a heap of debauched fun.