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:: A Bigger Splash

Jacques Deray's La Piscine, from 1969 – a drama of sexual jealousy and possessiveness – featured big, sexy stars (Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Jane Birkin). Luca Guadagnino’s take on it, A Bigger Splash, is a similarly star-studded affair, though with a more aesthetically bold approach that should be familiar to anyone who saw the director’s last fiction film, I Am Love.

Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is a rock star recovering from a voice operation, taking it easy with filmmaker boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). Their peace is disrupted by the arrival of Marianne’s former producer/ex-flame Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his young daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). The story from here becomes equal parts psychosexual power-play, Rossellini-esque relationship drama, and bawdy farce. It could potentially get very messy. But it miraculously works.

All four leads are great in their own way, but Fiennes steals the show with his obnoxious, brash whirlwind of an alpha male bellend. His manic dance to The Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescue is one of the most invigorating comic set-pieces of recent memory. He is simultaneously the most charming and the most irritating person on-screen, but the actor gives a magnetic performance in the role that keeps drawing your eyes back to him. He’s totally convincing as the passionate ex-lover that Swinton’s character eventually must have got too exhausted to carry on with, Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson lend strong support too and refuse to let themselves be bulldozed by Fiennes and Swinton. Schoenaerts is the most likeable of the four as sensitive, relatively stable young photographer Paul while Johnson is wonderfully languid and sly, with a gift for delivering withering stares.

A Bigger Splash is beautifully shot, well scripted with a wholly fitting soundtrack. The narrative works well to pull viewers in. The relationship dynamics become clearer as film progresses, but Harry and the initial set up are enough to reel the audience in. The background to the characters’ relationships is revealed through well scripted exposition and a handful of brief flashbacks. These are inserted at thoughtful intervals, with the director crafting the film to keep viewers engaged.

It is not clear the direction the film will take; the first third offers a number of possible avenues. The eventual progression is in keeping with the tone and style of the film. The pacing and subject matter of A Bigger Splash may not equal mass appeal, but it is a worthwhile film for those willing to take a punt. It is the sort of film that engrosses and amuses in equal measure.