A Bigger Splash is a sensual thrill ride of temptation as four people map out where they are now and who they thought they’d be.
Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is a mammoth rock star recovering from a potentially career altering throat surgery. Her recovery in a secluded Italian villa with her documentarian partner Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) consists of sex, swimming and naked lounging until they’re interrupted by some uninvited guests. Marianne’s former lover and manager Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) and his newly discovered daughter Penelope Lannier (Dakota Johnson) visit begins as an impulse and gradually degrades into something more messy.
There are scenes in A Bigger Splash that are so wonderfully jarring. In the middle of the film, Harry is playing records for the party and dancing along with the same swagger as Peter Garrett from Midnight Oil. The camera is hypnotised by his energy to the point that you’re dragged into his gaze. Staring down the barrel of the camera it feels like the filmmaker wants you to be enraptured by his allure. While Paul is a contemplative, restrained man, Harry is wild. Marianne and the audience are aware of Paul’s appeal but they want you to love this old dog’s puppy like enthusiasm for life in full throttle. In one significant embrace, Harry begins to step over the line with Marianne; you join the embrace. You get to feel Harry’s longing pouring out of the screen and conversely Marianne’s compassion and pained dismissal.
A Bigger Splash has a ride like quality at times as you ride with the performers observations of details. When there are suspicions of foul play every blemish, scuff or graze becomes the subject of an examination. What’s masterful about the picture is the lack of outward accusatory reactions; instead, you see and appraise the characters realisations and thoughts projected in their gaze.
Director Luca Guadagnino fills the spaces between exchanges with operatic music, paired with prickly and dangerous landscape. It has a great Michelangelo Antonioni – L’Avventura – flair as you’re forced to ponder over the mounting tension with the characters travelling from location to location. A night drive in a shaky buggy makes you feel like you’re skating on the edge of a hair-raising precipice.
Marianne panics cutting Harry’s hair, while a snake slides onto their simmering driveway. Paul easily dispatches the slithering visitor from the mountaintop. The dangers of the creatures feel like allegories for the situation. Paul feels like Harry is as easily dismissed, and yet there’s exhilaration in Harry’s bravado that makes Marianne want to keep him around.
Dakota Johnson is harnessed to perfection in this film. Playing Harry’s petulant daughter Penelope in her early twenties, you cannot decide whether because of her father, she’s significantly advanced in perceiving human interactions, or whether she’s got a youthful pigheaded cockiness.
Fiennes is absolutely mesmerising as Harry. He has a theatricality that goads those around him into action. Dancing, interacting, discovering new experiences in the familiar surroundings, it’s an aggressive sort of charm. Swinton is stunning and plays a vivid and realistic artist when for the majority of the film she barely speaks dialogue. She has a swans grace and beneath that regal quality is something primal and wild. Harry’s like a ringleader of their group, putting them in places when he can ignite and coax out Marianne’s chaos. He’s not beneath pouring alcohol or pills on the fire so-to-speak. Schoenaerts is cool and collected as Paul. Outwardly you expect that he’s merely occupying position as Marianne’s ‘toy-boy’ but the further you dig, the further that you see he’s rejecting that pure impulse in his body for the purposes of self preservation.
A Bigger Splash has surprises, mystery and emotional shock in store.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman