Seeing the sexy and gorgeously shot new film A Bigger Splash is like taking a vacation to Italy — that is if your idea of a vacation involves a little rock ‘n’ roll, steamy couplings and murder mixed in with the scenery. It also helps to have an A-list cast of superb actors along for the trip. And as I say in my video review above, this is all served up by Italian director Luca Guadagnino working in the English language with an international cast from a premise based on the 1969 French film La Piscine. Somehow this global hodgepodge actually works, as A Bigger Splash — which premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival — is lots of fun if you let yourself go and don’t worry about how sleazy the whole thing really is. Certainly that’s the attitude of the actors who look like they are having a blast, particularly Ralph Fiennes, who has never been this unplugged onscreen.
Set on Italy’s volcanic island of Pantelleria, the story centers on an idyllic holiday where rock superstar Marianne Lane (a terrific Tilda Swinton) is recovering from vocal-cord damage with her current boyfriend Paul (Belgium’s Matthias Schoenaerts). Marianne is ordered not to talk for another two weeks, so Swinton plays it all mostly silent. She’s exceptional in a challenging role and sexy as hell. Meanwhile, their holiday is interrupted when Harry (Fiennes), a very lively music producer and former Lane flame, arrives unannounced with his newly discovered daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Penelope also is a nifty little seductress who uses her best Lolita-like wiles to attract Paul, while Harry brushes back rumors he is sleeping with his daughter by showing the true intentions for his visit: trying to rekindle his romance with Marianne. The volcanic setting is perfect because it looks like this foursome could erupt at any moment. Things get increasingly intense and sexual as the film goes along.
The actors could not be better cast for this. Swinton can play just about anything and previously worked in Italy with Guadagnino in the acclaimed I Am Love. Schoenaerts is movie-star handsome and completely believable as the object of the lilting Johnson’s attraction. Fresh off Fifty Shades Of Grey, this young actress is building a nice résumé of sultry screen roles. But it is Fiennes, loosening up like never before, who steals the show with a lively turn as a frenetic but successful music producer who doesn’t want to let anyone forget he was a creative force on the Rolling Stones album Voodoo Lounge. In fact, the top highlight of this film is a Fiennes dance to the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue.” He, like most of the cast, also is called upon to be casually naked in some scenes, but he plays it about as uninhibited and natural as possible. If the picture gains the traction it deserves among adult audiences, I would not be surprised to see Fiennes pop up on early lists of Supporting Actor contenders next Oscar season.
The cool screenplay is credited to David Kajganich with adaptation and dialogues by La Piscine director Jacques Deray and Jean-Claude Carriere. Producers are Guadagnino and Michael Costigan. A big shout-out to the picture-perfect cinematography of Yorick Le Saux. Fox Searchlight opens A Bigger Splash in LA and NY on Wednesday and goes wider May 13. Independent-minded adults looking to escape from the comic book universe of most multiplexes are in for an exotic treat.
Do you plan to see A Bigger Splash? Let us know what you think.