HAVING worked together before on their 2009 drama I Am Love, Tilda Swinton and director Luca Guadagnino reunite with A Bigger Splash, a flashy but entertaining character study with Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson and Matthias Schoenaerts for company.
A rock star Marianne Lane (Swinton) is recovering from a throat operation with her younger boyfriend Paul (Schoenarts) on the Italian island Pantalleria, when they receive news that their eccentric friend and Marianne’s ex-lover Harry Hawkes (Fiennes) is coming to visit. Joining him is his daughter Penelope (Johnson) who it is later revealed has only been in his life for a year.
Harry and Penelope are eventually persuaded to stay on the island where the quartet find themselves embedded within the culture and idyllic surroundings, killing time with swimming races or Harry bringing in crowds into bars with his love for karaoke.
As the trip progresses, Harry finds himself spending time alone with Marianne, whilst Paul and Penelope do their own thing together. It dawns that Paul is secretly trying to win back Marianne but as tensions start to grow between others, events take place that could have serious implications for all four of the holidaymakers.
When looking at the film as a whole, one does feel that the end result is satisfactory but must at the least study the direction of Guadagnino. At times the film plays as overt in its attempts to be arty, as expressed for instance during persistent scenes of Penelope lazing around in a swimming pool.
Its erotic nature, though necessary in determining character relationships, does have the potential to make one query if he is trying too hard to obtain a reaction.
In spite of this, it is a style that does not make a difference to whether the film can be enjoyed or not. It is often reminiscent of past films such as Michael Powell’s Age of Consent and Francois Ozon’s Swimming Pool, with a tinge of Sexy Beast thrown in for good measure in regards to character tensions.
The characters are what are designed to carry this film and though all are engaging to watch, it is Fiennes who is the show-stealer of the film.
Following from his comedic turn in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fiennes lives up to it and practically becomes possessed in two music sequences which in one case comes across more like a music video. In that sequence, an open-shirted Harry dances around the property and mimes to the Rolling Stones, whilst in another, he engages in a somewhat creepy karaoke duet of Unforgettable with Penelope.
For diving undressed in pools, continuously asking questions to Marianne who is supposed to not speak, inviting people without asking and at one unseen point, nearly driving Paul’s car off a hill, Harry is by far the most watchable of a watchable lot.
The flashback sequences depicting the friendship between Harry and Paul are in effect an interesting view as it gives us an insight into the past, which has only been vaguely expressed in modern-day sequences. The two meet during an interview and a witty quote regarding Paint It Black by Paul impresses Harry, who later introduces him to Marianne during a recording session.
The fact that Paul is an implied recovering alcoholic makes the situation between him and the wine-guzzling Harry interesting because though supposed friends, it deciphers contrasting personalities. The fact that it is the other way round and it is Paul going out now with Marianne only serves to bring intrigue as to where the film is jumping from then on.
Without giving anything away, the final third is interesting as that is when the film goes from being a basic drama about relationships to arguably a mystery drama. When looking at the events that get there in the first place, it does make one speculate what the future could be for those involved and those who are not. It is a morally challenging section that is also fuelled by a section of twists that make us assume whether the idyllic nature is really as it comes across.
The scene that gets to the themes surrounding the final act are directed splendidly in a bravura long take which is a chilling sequence to watch because, as viewers, we sit helplessly and know that what we suspect to occur actually does.
A Bigger Splash can over-do it at times but its cast keep things steady and its psychological sense does make this another likable collaboration between Swinton and Guadagnino.