Thursday, 11 February 2016

A Bigger Splash review

Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton star in Luca Guadagninio's 'A Bigger Splash' - a loose working of La Piscine from '69 if you remember it. But there's a different focus, and a lot of new ideas from the original. Hit the jump for my review.....

I absolutely love La Piscine - it's Hitchcock tension and beautifully tropical cinematography make it the perfectly steamy murder story. But that's the focus - the murder. In a Bigger splash, we have the same characters (Marianne, Harry, Penelope, and not Jean Paul - just Paul), but a different focus. Guadagninio just draws out the foreplay a bit more.....

A past love reawakened.
We begin at some huge rock concert. The drums are beating, the crowd are cheering, and Tilda Swinton - giving off heavy David Bowie vibes - walks out on stage - her arms shot in the air. Triumphant one would say. But before she is able to sing, we cut away to the baking heat of the Mediterranean (Pantelleria's wind-swept isle in Italy to be precise).The same Marianne is taking a rather long holiday with her boyfriend, Paul, the irony being that she is practically unable to speak. Years of drug abuse and singing have provided the catalyst for an important throat operation that has caused her to remain mute for the next two weeks. Paul and Marianne are having sex in the pool - in a steamy indicator of the sensual minefield that is to follow. A montage showing the two laid side by side, and rubbing geothermal mud all over themselves is gently comedic - but an overt reminder of their happiness as a couple in comfortable sexuality.

Then Marianne get's a phone-call. As if a hurricane is tearing it's way towards Pantelleria, or the David Hockney painting of the title, and it's own disruption amongst perfect blue- ex-husband/boyfriend Harry, and his daughter Penelope are winging their way over to the island right this minute. Oh shit. Marianne seems a little anxious, but Paul clearly can't be bothered dealing with the two extra guests.

Beautiful key of colour.
And so begins a bigger splash. The two arrive with visual flourish - Penelope proudly claiming 'oh, and by the way, I'm 22' for reasons that will remain unclear until later. It's these little details, such as strange mannerisms, peculiar behavior, and palpable tension that mark a bigger splash as a cannonball soaring towards it's target. Pretty soon, old and new relationships co-exist together in an uncomfortable synergy that grates on all involved.It starts with the obvious Harry/Marianne dynamic resurrecting itself after all those years of waiting. In comparison to Swinton's low-key mute and reserved performance, Fiennes turns up the ADHD factor to 11 - flamboyance, swearing, and the best kind of dad-dance combine to create an irresistibly annoying character study in the insane. Pretty quickly, one assumes, Marianne is under his spell. Or maybe she never left it.

Paul clearly senses this, and is a little hostile towards Harry. The key with a Bigger Splash is to look closer - unlike the swimming pool that it is based on, there is no surface tension to be had. All the action occurs just underneath the lives of our characters - and Guadagninio's cinematography makes us voyeurs into the sexual lives of the protagonists.

New love found.
As you can imagine, in retaliation, Paul starts to flirt with Penelope; something that Harry and Marianne clock, with out overtly calling him out about it. But a series of drunk conversations on rooftops reveal that Paul and harry have their own relationship dynamics. This is of course followed by the inevitable, yet horrific, truth that Harry is deeply attracted to Penelope, his own daughter too. Something that becomes self evident after a scarily sensual karaoke session on a night out. So the only relationship that hasn't developed is that between Marianne and Penelope - it may be there and I've just missed it, but it wasn't that evident if it was.

The plot is happy to bubble away with this same Hitchcockian sensuality and growing tension until it reaches boiling point. Oh, and it does reach boiling point. What started as an inevitable playfulness has grown into something a lot more; particularly with the suggestion that Penelope has lost her virginity to Paul, and all protagonists just kinda go crazy. As you can imagine, somebody gets killed.
Guadagninio has created a film of two halves, for sure. The first, romantic, portion is different to the second - which is sort of a dramatic-irony crime thriller. Instead of romance, we get fear and hate between Penelope and the married couple. But what stretches will the foreign police go to solve the crime?

The perfect setting...
The cinematography is consistently beautiful; with open landscapes, and the sunny haven of the pool. The sound design is also very well mastered indeed. From concerts, to montage, to that dancing scene, and in-between - we are layered with sumptuous tracks (usually from the Rolling Stones) that really set the mood and tone for the action occurring on screen. All the performances are great also. Harry plays an extremely over-the-top comic personality ("Europe's a grave" being the prime example of his nonchalant attitude). Swinton expertly portrays the mute pop star in majestic glory. Dakota Johnson puts in a pitch perfect performance as a femme fatale style sociopath. Lastly, Matthias Schoenaertes adds to his repertoire of excellent acting (see Rust and Bone) to just make the ensemble perfect. My only problem: it's just not quite original enough.

A Bigger Splash is a sun-soaked hotbox of a romantic thriller. One that will entertain, perhaps surprise and shock as well; and one that you should definitely catch sometime.
A Bigger Splash gets 4 stars!

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