A Bigger Splash
Artist David Hockney’s best-known work is “A Bigger Splash”— an outwardly simple painting of a splash rising from a blue swimming pool. The spray of water explodes outwards, a thrill of energetic white that jars against the calm, hard surroundings. Luca Guadagnino’s English-language debut “A Bigger Splash” captures that selfsame contrast: It’s a layered, suspenseful drama in which the cast bursts against harsh waters; a splash of sun, sex and self-obsession.
Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is a world-famous star—a Bowie-esque glam rocker who’s recuperating at a remote Italian island villa after vocal chord surgery. She can’t talk in anything more than a croak, and her days are occupied in a distinctly un-rockstar fashion: silent sunbathing or trips to the beach with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a reserved documentary-maker. It’s all very calm and lovely until they get a call out of the blue: Landing at the airport in just five minutes is Harry (Ralph Fiennes), an old, dissolute flame of Marianne’s. He’s a fantastically irritating hedonist, forever throwing himself at the next pretty woman or throwing off his clothes to skinny dip. He’s also brought a hanger-on—his newly discovered daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), a Lolita-esque figure who’s not quite the sultry temptress she’d like to think she is.
Paul is intensely annoyed by the interruption to Marianne’s recuperation, but the fading singer herself can’t help but feel nostalgic for her wilder past, as incarnated in Harry. And, needled by Harry’s obvious interest in Marianne, Paul finds himself drawn to Penelope.
“A Bigger Splash” is a loose remake of Jacques Deray’s 1969 French film “La Piscine,” and this film shares the original’s simmering sensuality, submerged just under the surface. It’s gorgeously shot, and amid the hard colors of this quiet Italian island, the harsh midday sun and intense close-ups give our actors nowhere to hide.
And it’s the actors who really carry this piece. Swinton, who barely speaks at all, gives a wonderful performance as the rock star who, whilst tired of performing, can’t help loving Harry’s performative vulgarity. Ralph Fiennes lends this washed-up old roué an obscene charm, while Matthias Shoenaarts’ Paul nails the boyfriend trying to handle his own jealousy, giving his role a powerful depth. Dakota Johnson doesn’t shine quite as
(Italy/France) Thriller. Directed by Luca Guadagnino. Starring Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson. Category IIB. 125 minutes. Opened June 16.