Swinton and Fiennes Make Quite the Splash
Luca Guadagnino's "A Bigger Splash" is a peek into the relationship between a female rock star (Tilda Swinton) and her boyfriend, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a documentary filmmaker. The couple lives on an island off the coast of Sicily and this exotic locale is the setting for this sometimes sordid tale.
For the first two thirds of the film, its primary concern revolves around sexual tension between the couple and the wife's old flame who stops by for a visit, unannounced and uninvited. The film's third act takes it in a somewhat different direction. Both stories work, for different reasons.
Marianne Laine (Swinton) is a successful singer recuperating from vocal cord surgery. This reduces her spoken words to whispers, under strict doctor's orders. The somewhat androgynous yet strikingly attractive Swinton looks more like David Bowie here than ever (in fact, I'd love to see her play the rock icon in a biopic if any directors are out there paying attention).
While Marianne recuperates, her old boyfriend Harry (Ralph Fiennes), drops by with Penelope (Dakota Johnson), his very sexy teenage daughter. Harry is an extremely extroverted man, with a vastly inflated sense of self-importance. It is nearly impossible not to despise him as he inserts himself between Marianne and Paul.
Fiennes does an outstanding job with the role. While Harry attempts to seduce Marianne, Penelope is doing the same to Paul, seemingly just for the sport of it. Sexual tension oozes everywhere and there is lots of nudity by all the major players.
When a confrontation finally erupts, the results turn the story on its head and it becomes more difficult to tell the good guys from the bad. And this is what gives the story its power. Guadagnino never totally resolves anyone's motives. The relative moral strengths and weaknesses of the four primary characters remain somewhat ambiguous throughout. In the end, you will certainly have developed strong opinions about all of them, but the director refuses to lay it all out cleanly for you, in black and white. And this I find refreshing.
The film is a simmering pot, with everyone holding up their end, throwing in their own unique flavors to the mix. But in the end, it's Fiennes who makes the biggest splash, and who vaults this tale into lofty levels