In A BIGGER SPLASH, the lives of a high profile couple, a famous rock star (Tilda Swinton) and a filmmaker (Matthias Schoenaerts), vacationing and recovering on the idyllic sun-drenched and remote Italian island of Pantelleria, are disrupted by the unexpected visit of an old friend (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter (Dakota Johnson) - creating a whirlwind of jealousy, passion and, ultimately, danger for everyone involved. Written by
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Great performances and moments that contribute to very little...
If you thought that Oscar Isaac's dancing in "Ex Machina" was a sight to behold, then wait until you see this. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, who is best known for his well-received work on "I Am Love" in 2009, this has to be a shoe-in for the most screwed up family holiday of the year. Tilda Swinton, who has worked with Guadagnino in the past, stars as voiceless rockstar Marianne Lane, who has retired to a remote island off the coast of Italy in order to recover from an operation on her vocal chords. Joining her is partner and filmmaker Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) who, as we see through flashbacks, is introduced to Lane by record producer Harry Hawkes, a rambunctious and zany character played in true dickhead style by Ralph Fiennes. After intruding on Marianne and Paul's get-away with his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), who seems to share a rather suspicious and discomforting relationship with her new-found father, it becomes clear that Harry has some designs on winning his ex-lover and colleague Marianne back. Set in the beautiful Pantellaria, and often around an enticing swimming pool, what seems like an above-board retreat soon turns pretty sour. Having competed for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, which saw it receive rave reviews from many critics, can "A Bigger Splash" live up to its impactful title?
The first half an hour, or so, of "A Bigger Splash" is absolutely irresistible. Guadagnino directs with a lot of style and personality, and proves himself quite capable of capturing a beautiful landscape on screen. Having seen what Paolo Sorrentino did with the alpine hotel in "Youth", it seems as if it runs in the blood of Italian directors. A very interesting atmosphere and tone is also set; the film is playful and somewhat raunchy, but also quite ambiguous and eccentric. Playing into this are the excellent performances which, throughout the entire duration of the feature, hold up the narrative. Tilda Swinton, who actually suggested that her character shouldn't be able to speak herself, does incredibly well with a very physical performance of gestures, facial reactions and whispers, and despite the age gap, her romance with Schoenaerts' Paul feels quite believable. The stand-out performer though, which is saying something in a film starring Tilda Swinton, is Ralph Fiennes, who shows his superb range with a crazy portrayal of an insufferable, irritating nuisance.
Despite the character he is playing, Fiennes is obscenely engaging, and a scene in which he busts multiple moves is both hilarious and striking in a way that very few films are. I might tentatively suggest, even at this early stage in the year, that his performance in "A Bigger Splash" could be an early contender for an Oscar nomination. Dakota Johnson rounds out the leading quartet with a sultry turn as Penelope, a mysterious, curious figure that does add a bit of youthful spice to proceedings. You have to commend the central cast for their excellent chemistry with one another; while there is an excessiveness and heightened sense of reality involved in "A Bigger Splash", its feet are kept on the ground by the intriguing interactions that take place between the colliding personalities. Guadagnino is successful in his attempt to create a palpable awkwardness between ex-lovers, father and daughter, husband and wife and for a while this allows the movie to feel rather dynamic. The movie features an excellent soundtrack as well, which really helps you sink into the wonderful surroundings depicted in the film, and you do get the sense that you're almost along for the ride on this dysfunctional holiday with the characters in question. "A Bigger Splash" is an accomplished film in a number of ways, and really is gorgeous to look at.
It's rather frustrating then that "A Bigger Splash", despite the film's achievements, feels like a missed opportunity. Although each of the main quartet are interesting in their own particular way, there is a clear absence of emotional connection to any of the central characters; their arcs are ultimately unsatisfying and their experiences seem to make very little impact upon the audience. Seeing these well-known names act in rather unfamiliar and off-the-cuff ways is bright and unexpected initially, but well into the second act of the film, the novelty of the feature starts to wear off. At a runtime of over two hours, too much of "A Bigger Splash" feels like a spinning of wheels, and although it would be unfair to label the movie as totally pretentious, there is a heavy-handidness of theme which comes across as rather jarring. The narrative, in several ways, just doesn't sustain itself; after a while it's quite easy to lose interest in what happens to each character, and they all seem so distanced from reality that any kind of relatability is ultimately sacrificed.
It's also fair to say that the setting, as wonderful as the holiday home is, becomes quite stale after a prolonged amount of time, and the claustrophobic, limited scope of the feature doesn't resonate emotionally in any particular way. The performances are great, but they don't really end up contributing to anything that is remotely substantial. This is summed up in the final act which, irrespective of a somewhat surprising plot-twist, doesn't resolve the issues addressed in the movie very well at all. The final scene is totally bizarre in its own right, but the entire conclusion to "A Bigger Splash" stunk of whimsical nonsense, and offered no pleasing or arresting closure to the overall narrative which had taken place. I admit that I might be missing something beneath the surface of this movie's glossy sheen, but the final stages of the film are handled so erratically and messily that it somewhat spoils the promise that "A Bigger Splash" clearly has.
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