VOD film review: A Bigger Splash
James R | On 28, Jun 2016
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes
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“You’re obscene,” sneers Paul (Schoenaerts) halfway through A Bigger Splash. Living on the Italian island of Pantelleria with his partner, infamous rock star Marianne Lane (Swinton), the pair are laying low as her vocal chords recover from an operation. Enter record producer and old flame Harry Hawkes (Fiennes), who disrupts their peace in more ways than one.
Ralph Fiennes is on incomparable form, diving into the waters of his loud, obnoxious, idiot without pausing for breath. After years of being known for his reserved, stiff-upper-lip roles, Fiennes has been a revelation in recent years, showcasing a versatility that easily ranks him among Britain’s top thesps. Wallace and Gromit, Coriolanus, Harry Potter, and even In Bruges scratched the surface of his explosive performance here – coming hot on the heels of his hysterical turn in The Grand Budapest Hotel, he combines that deadpan comic timing with a sickening charisma – he’s annoying, he’s rude, he’s disgusting and he’s impossible to take your eyes off. One musical scene halfway through is worth tuning in for alone (he rivals Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina for over-the-top dance moves).
Part of the thrill of A Bigger Splash is just seeing Fiennes interact with two equally stellar stars: Tilda Swinton is exemplary, conveying everything from disdain for her former lover to suspicion of Harry’s daughter (Dakota Johnson), who waltzes into their lives right alongside him, without barely saying a word; Matthias Schoenaerts, meanwhile, is a bundle of affection, insecurity and anger as photographer Paul. Moving between crime thrillers (The Drop), period romance (Far from the Madding Crowd) and intense dramas (Ruse and Bone), Schoenaerts is a hard actor to pin down. Is he a star? A character actor? A rom-com heartthrob? It’s great to see a director know exactly what to do with him: give him space.
That’s what Luca Guadagnino does throughout A Bigger Splash, placing his ensemble in close quarters and letting them collide without interfering. The screenplay, by David Kajganich based on Alain Page’s Alain Delon 1969 film La Piscine, nudges us carefully towards an ominous outcome, but it doesn’t seem scripted: Guadagnino and DoP Yorick Le Saux shoot in static graceful shots at first, languishing in the summer landscapes and letting their natural beauty shine, but the visuals gradually become more handheld as things spiral out of control, giving the impression that the characters are feeling their own way through the story. Harry, of course, is prone to theatrics – “I’m not sleeping with my daughter!” he yells at Marianne, after she picks up on the seedy nature of his paternal bond with Johnson’s spiky nymph – but there’s a fragility and tension behind each interaction that rings with the messiness of real life.
At all times, David Hockney’s picture (alluded to in the background) sits in the back of your mind – a portrait of a Californian swimming pool disturbed by ripples from an unseen body. A Bigger Splash fuses that vibrant intensity with an eerie mystery and queasy sense of celebrity, allowing the colourful paint to peel slowly in the sweltering heat. The result is gripping, surprising and immersive; like all the best summer page-turners, it’s just the thing to soak up on a humid afternoon while stretching out by the pool. “You’re obscene,” snaps Paul. “We’re all obscene,” retorts Harry. “Everyone’s obscene. That’s the whole fucking point.”
A Bigger Splash is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.