Luca Guadagnino’s new film A Bigger Splash stars Tilda Swinton as Marianne, a rock star recovering from throat surgery. She has retreated, along with her boyfriend Paul (Mattias Schoenaerts), to a Mediterranean island near Tunisia. They reside there in complete peace, isolated from the world, communicating in gestures, necessitated by Marianne’s inability to speak. Their Eden-like existence is shattered by the arrival of Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Harry is Marianne’s former record producer and lover. He bursts onto tranquil landscape of rural Italy with a manic energy which is both repulsive and transfixing. With Harry and his daughter installed in the house, tensions begin to rise; Harry clearly still cares for Marianne, despite having introduced her to Paul years ago. Observing this fraught love triangle is an enigma for Penelope, who maintains a detached coolness, hinting at something concealed beneath the surface.
The aura of things unsaid surrounds every encounter in this film. Marianne’s silence, contrasts strongly with Harry’s never ending spiel and Paul seems to be constantly biting back the words he wants to throw in Harry’s face. Ralph Fiennes draws the eye in every scene as he brilliantly embodies the comically obnoxious Harry, whether this is by dancing with cringe inducing enthusiasm around the room, or by retelling Rolling Stones anecdotes, repeated so often that Marianne can mouth along. It seems that Fiennes is continuing to successfully embrace more comic roles since his fantastic performance as M. Gustave in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Opposite Fiennes is the ever-brilliant Swinton, giving a surprisingly physical performance as the silenced Marianne. She conveys more clearly in gestures and glances her meaning than others do in pages of dialogue, bringing a Bowie-esque quality to the flash backs of Marianne’s glory days, and infusing the present with a nostalgia for times past. The real surprise of the film is the performance given by Dakota Johnson. She compels the audience to forget the dire 50 Shades of Grey and focus on her measured portrayal of the watchful and enticing Penelope.
A Bigger Splash marks an assured switch to English-language film from director Luca Guadagnino. His previous, Italian-language film, I am Love established his brilliantly ability to juxtaposition the beauty of landscape with increasingly tense situations. The focus of A Bigger Splash is the pool, around which the cast gather daily. However in the behind these typical holiday scenes is the constant buzz of radios and televisions, reporting on the refugee crisis slowly encroaching on the island. Thus, Guadagnino subtly politicises the story, exposing the blinkered world view of the protagonists whose major concerns revolve around whether Marianne will regain her voice.
The climax of the film coincides with the arrival of a long-threatened storm on the island. The final hour takes an unexpectedly dark turn, causing the audience to re-evaluate the conclusions that they have reached about these characters. A Bigger Splash is a film that succeeds at being thought provoking and, often, very funny.
Image courtesy of Studiocanal