A Bigger Splash
There's so much past history bubbling under the surface of Luca Guadagnino's A Bigger Splash that it's hard for the characters to breathe. Which makes the film's central image—a sun-kissed swimming pool—both a fitting and obvious metaphor for their timeless anxiety.
Set on a windy Mediterranean island off the coast of Italy, the film opens with recovering rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) enjoying an idyllic vacation with her filmmaker boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). She can't speak and he can't sit still. The two lounge at their hillside villa, make love in the pool, and venture down to the beach where they cake themselves in mud. If only life (and cinema) were this simple.
Like a bellowing god from above, Marianne's former lover, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), arrives unannounced with his estranged daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) to wreak uncomfortable havoc. After a polite feeling out stage, the foursome comes to represent a delicate cross-section of competing egos, intentions and secrets, one in which the slightest of revelations could cause collapse.
For much of A Bigger Splash , which opens Friday, May 20, Guadagnino usurps traditional narrative storytelling for jarring stylistic decisions, like sudden accusatory close-ups and ponderous long takes. The agitation caused by Harry's tornado-like personality and motivations further inspires a sense of collective disruption.
That theme ultimately comes to fruition in an unsatisfyingly familiar finale, but by then the film has already achieved an invisible menace that has been consistently filtered through passive-aggression and desire. Certain visual pleasures tonally complicate the growing unease, namely the pristine reflections cast from Marianne's glamorous sunglasses.
It's Fiennes, though, that proverbially steals the show. Once again showing the kind of indispensible range of a master, the actor portrays Harry as a raging bull of spark, insecurity, charm and manic depression. He is both life force and energy drain in a film that can't ultimately decide how to reconcile either.
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