Likely to polarize audiences, A Bigger Splash is an engaging story of intersecting relationships set on a remote Italian island. Tilda Swinton stars with Ralph Fiennes in director Luca Guadagnino’s film that naturally combines elements of comedy and drama.
Swinton plays rock star Marianne Lane, convalescing from throat surgery with her boyfriend Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts). The arrival of her former producer and love Harry Hawkes (Fiennes) and his daughter Penelope Lanier (Dakota Johnson) reignites lingering feelings and the drama of past conflicts. Harry’s big personality and love of excitement contrasts with the more reserved filmmaker Paul who has given up drinking and has his own history with Harry. The enigmatic Penelope is a recent addition to Harry’s life, who had no idea of his daughter’s existence.
Written by Alain Page and David Kajganich, A Bigger Splash is based on the 1969 French film La Piscine. While many plot points are predictable given the circumstances of the characters, the resolutions are surprising enough to hold the audience’s attention throughout. Interspersed flashbacks to Marianne at a massive stadium performance and to Harry bringing Paul to a see her in the recording studio are interesting enough but add little depth to the story. The drama between characters is already apparent and allusions to the past fill in the details of their lives.
The film’s music is a strong point, especially as diegetic music brings out the personalities of characters. Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” appears twice and is used to great effect, particularly given the song’s well known use in Goodfellas. The soundtrack was a prize winner at the 2015 Venice Film Festival. Guadagnino and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux use the island’s setting to create several lasting images and heighten the emotional drama. Scenes are composed to draw out the story’s tension and show how characters are affected by one another.
Fiennes and Swinton carry the film with their performances. Marianne is unable to speak due to surgery, only offering a strained whisper when pressed by circumstance. Swinton emotes through her physical movement and expressions to effectively represent her character. Fiennes captures Harry’s frenetic personality and free spirit to naturally bring life and charisma to a story with several reserved characters. Schoenaerts is given little to do for much of the film but performs well when called upon. Through no fault of her own, Dakota Johnson’s character can be grating at times and is not fully fleshed out.
This is a well made film but it may not be for everyone. The mix of romance, drama, and comedy may not have enough of one genre for some viewers to appreciate, especially given its slow pacing. A Bigger Splash is an adult relationship film that requires a patient audience to appreciate its story and predominantly subtle melodrama.Our Rating: Note