Cinema Release: A Bigger Splash


Director: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tilda Swinton

Classification: MA15+ (Strong Nudity)

Review by Peter Gray

A loose remake of the 1969 Italian-French film ‘La Piscine’ (‘The Swimming Pool’), ‘A Bigger Splash’ finds director Luca Guadagnino, following up his acclaimed 2009 drama ‘I Am Love’, delighting the senses as he toys with the sexually-charged quartet of questionable characters at the center of this erotic opera.

Set in the idyllic Mediterranean island of Pantelleria, ‘A Bigger Splash’ sets up the passionate lifestyle of rock-star Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a photographer and documentary filmmaker.  If they’re not enjoying sexual romps in their pool, they’re slathering volcanic mud over one another at a near-by lake, and it’s in the midst of said-slather when they are disrupted by the brash arrival of Harry (an electric Ralph Fiennes), Marianne’s former lover and manager.  Rounding out the crew is Harry’s (only recently discovered) daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), a seductive young twenty-something who everyone theorizes is Harry’s latest conquest – an assumption he has no qualms about.

As well as his past connection to Marianne, the character barely audible throughout due to her recent vocal surgery, Harry takes ownership in the relationship she shares with Paul as he introduced the two, but shows little respect of this during his visit as he constantly plays the seduction card, knowing the effect he still has on Marianne.  As the film joyously showcases Harry and Marianne’s dance of intimacy, Penelope nymphets her way around the pool and Paul, leaving us constantly on edge as to who will ultimately break and give in to their obvious urges.

Though it ultimately descends into darker territory, ‘A Bigger Splash’ begins on such a manic high that it seems deliberately made to throw its audience’s scent off as we witness the pure joy that is Fiennes lip-synching to the Rolling Stones (complete with moves like Jagger) before he shamelessly strips off for one of his countless swims.  Fiennes is clearly relishing this role, and in turn we can’t help but be fixated by his mix of vulgarity and exuberance.  Equally as intoxicating is Swinton; if there’s ever an actor working today that can impress without as so much saying a word, it’s her.  Scoenaerts and Johnson are saddled with the less-showy roles, but impress just as much; Johnson is particularly interesting as the Lolita-type minx who knows more than she leads on.

As gorgeous as the film is to look at, not all of ‘A Bigger Splash’ works.  A subplot involving Tunisian refugees on the island feels like an after-thought to wrap-up one of the film’s more surprising story ventures, and after such a strong start it was always going to be a challenge to maintain that level of agitated energy and unpredictability. Whilst the film finishes on a little more of a whimper compared to the bang it generates in its opening moments, ‘A Bigger Splash’ is still one of 2016’s more unexpected treats. Seek it out if you can – even if just for the joyous imagery that is Fiennes’ hypnotic dancing.

My rating: 3.5/5

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