UK Release Date: 12th February 2016
Runtime: 124 minutes
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer: David Kajganich
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson
Synopsis: A former rock star on a period of vocal rest finds her new, quiet existence on a remote island off Italy disturbed by the arrival of a rather boisterous presence from her past.
It was with a snort of derision from the cinematic world that a remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria was announced about five years ago. It was with a further snort that relatively unknown Italian director Luca Guadagnino was attached to make the film. Guadagnino is set to change minds, however, with A Bigger Splash, which is a deeply enthralling and interesting film about the dangers of unaddressed tension.
Rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is on vocal rest and relaxing with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaertes) on an idyllic Italian island. Out of nowhere, Marianne’s old flame and former producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes) arrives with his attractive young daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in tow. Initially, the impromptu arrangement is amicable, but the latent tension and emotion eventually bubbles to the surface in explosive fashion.
A Bigger Splash is a deeply unusual, dreamlike film. Guadagnino takes the openness of the beautiful location and turns it inward, creating a honey trap from which none of the central characters are able to escape. The world of Pantelleria is intoxicating and enthralling, providing the perfect petri dish for the seeds of old feelings and new seductions to germinate and bloom into complex, tangled relationships.
The world is not ready for your honesty.
There’s a clear counterbalance to the subtlety of Guadagnino’s storytelling in the shape of Ralph Fiennes’ performance, which is big, brash and alarmingly noisy. Harry is the clear successor to Fiennes’ concierge Gustave H in The Grand Budapest Hotel and yet another showcase for Fiennes’ impressive chops as a comedy performer. However, despite the wise-cracking and extended scenes of dad dancing, Fiennes imbues Harry with a sinister inscrutability that means his intentions and desires are never as clear as they perhaps ought to be given his enormous personality. It’s a smart performance that carries depth beneath its broad exterior.
A Bigger Splash also benefits from strong performances in the other three corners of its central quartet. Dakota Johnson has a seductive appeal here that was only hinted at in Fifty Shades of Grey and Matthias Schoenaertes finally manages to make his lack of charisma into a virtue. The standout, though, is Tilda Swinton with a bizarre physical performance that allows her to say an enormous amount whilst maintaining a state of mute observation for most of the film. It’s yet another transformative performance from Swinton and couldn’t be more starkly different from her acid-tongued magazine editor in last year’s Trainwreck.
It’s difficult as a viewer to fully penetrate the odd reality of A Bigger Splash, but it certainly casts a spell. There’s a strange hue of fantasy to it all, capturing as it does four people at the height of privilege treating an entire island as a mere playground for their personal issues. By the time the central tension culminates in a third act sucker punch, followed by a coda that extends for more than a little too long, the film has worked its woozy magic to create a finished product that is tough to forget.
You’re pretty domesticated for a rock star.
It’s unclear whether Guadagnino will prove a worthy successor to Argento with his Suspiria remake. He does however prove himself to be a tremendous director of actors with A Bigger Splash, ushering great performances from his talented cast. With several of them on board for Suspiria, the duo of films could prove to be the one-two punch that establishes him as a hot new director in the European arthouse world.
Pop or Poop?
An enormous, broadly comedic performance from Ralph Fiennes and a trio of subtler supporting turns give context and depth to the dreamlike vistas of Luca Guadagnino’s Italian paradise in A Bigger Splash.
There are laughs to be had and moments of extraordinary darkness, but the entire project deals in hazy atmosphere and a dreamlike potency. It isn’t perfect, but it certainly makes an impact.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.