Film Review: A Bigger Splash (15)

Sun, sea, sex and skulduggery are the key ingredients of writer-director Luca Guadagnino's spicy cinematic cocktail, which elegantly updates the erotically charged 1969 thriller La Piscine from St Tropez to the rugged Sicilian island of Pantelleria.

Wednesday, 10th February 2016, 8:41 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th February 2016, 1:23 pm
A Bigger Splash. Pictured: Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes. See PA Feature FILM Reviews.: PA Photo/Icon.

Simmering sexual tensions of the original have been turned up to a furious boil in A Bigger Splash, which demands full-frontal nudity from almost the entire cast as the battle of the sexes claims at least one casualty.

The striking backdrop of a volcanic Mediterranean island is an apt metaphor for the dormant desires of morally conflicted characters, who threaten to erupt under sustained provocation.

The four protagonists all seem capable of inflicting a fatal blow and breaking the heady spell of the untamed idyll.

It’s this air of uncertainty and impending doom which electrifies every frame of Guadagnino’s stylistically specific vision.

Once again, the filmmaker collaborates with Oscar-winning British actress Tilda Swinton and gifts her a plum role as a David Bowie-esque glam rock doyenne called Marianne Lane, who is recuperating from surgery on her vocal chords.

Medically enforced silence forces Swinton to convey tortuous emotions through movement rather than words, allowing her co-stars to inflict damage with their well-placed verbal grenades.

Marianne has retreated to a villa on Pantelleria with her boyfriend, documentary filmmaker Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts), who has tamed her wild, drug-crazed excesses while shaking himself free of alcoholism.

During a lazy afternoon on a secluded beach, Marianne receives a telephone call from her old flame, boorish record producer Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), who has arrived unexpectedly on the island.

It’s clear that Harry has arrived with an ulterior motive - to drive a wedge between the couple - and he has brought along his alluring teenage daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), to distract Paul.

“Underneath, she’s a lovely bitch like her mother,” jokes Harry.

Worming his way into the guest room at Marianne’s secluded villa, Harry charms housekeeper Clara (Elena Bucci) and wallows in nostalgia to remind the hostess of happy times with him.

Marianne remains by Paul’s side until the two men finally lock horns.

“You have no idea of the stuff I got her off,” rages Harry.

“I got her off you,” counters Paul bluntly.

Sharing its title with a 1967 David Hockney painting, A Bigger Splash is energized by Fiennes’ unflinching portrayal of an emotional wrecking ball. A centrepiece sequence of the actor gyrating wildly to The Rolling Stones’ hit Emotional Rescue - an ironic musical choice - truly smacks our gobs.

Swinton is in imperious form and on-screen chemistry with Schoenaerts is molten like freshly spewed lava. Johnson is scorched by her co-stars, but shows greater depth than Fifty Shades Of Grey afforded her.

Writer-director Guadagnino repeatedly turns up the heat until we’re itching for a cooling dip in the ominously blue waters of Marianne’s pool.

Rating: 7.5/10