A Bigger Splash Review
A Bigger Splash stars Tilda Swinton as Marianne Lane, a world-famous rock singer who has decamped to a Sicilian island with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). The reason for this trip to the Mediterranean is for Marianne to recover from the throat surgery which has temporarily – or perhaps not so temporarily – put her voice out of action. In this luxurious, sun-baked environment the couple are soon joined unexpectedly by Marianne’s ex-lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). What then unfolds is a passive aggressive war of attrition, as various ugly events from the past resurface and sexual tensions reach boiling point.
The bulk of the film comprises of conversations between these four (and a few additional characters who add little to the story), as various back-stabbing takes place and loyalties are strained. It’s a film in which what goes unsaid has equal import to that which is spoken aloud and there is a loose, improvisational feel to much of the dialogue. Despite this, the main characters often behave in ways in which no real person ever would and what begins as a rather clever and tense character study occasionally feels somewhat stagey andcontrived.
As record industry maverick Harry, Fiennes continues to prove what a mercurial actor he is. Practically giddy with ebullient, provocative energy and grinning madly for much of the film, he’s immensely watchable. Harry is probably the most intriguing - not to mention amusing - character in this quartet. It’s revealed fairly early on via a number of flashback scenes that it was he who directly set up Marianne with the documentarian Paul, to whom he is a former mentor of sorts. Harry’s daughter Penelope is the least well-drawn of the four; her sole purpose seeming to be to provoke reactions from Marianne and Paul, albeit in less overt ways than her father. The crux of the film concerns Harry’s true motives regarding Marianne, and what he’s prepared to do in order to realise his desire.
Guadagnino’s film is certainly never boring, and excels on many fronts. The landscapes of Pantelleria are elegantly shot and the island never becomes the focus as an ‘exotic’ location in the manner of a travelogue, as is often the custom in less classy fare. The soundtrack is eclectic; The Rolling Stones and Captain Beefheart sit alongside starkly avant-garde pieces by Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi to great effect, especially in the more melodramatic moments. As much as these aspects of the film (not to mention impeccable performances) deserve plaudits, structurally as well as tonally the film is very uneven. In its final act the plot takes a turn for the schlocky, with an event presumably intended to be a bolt out of the blue, yet is pretty well sign-posted. Any semblance of the subtlety and suspense which had been bubbling under in prior scenes is jettisoned, and it stretches credulity beyond the breaking point. Also there is a minor subplot regarding the migrant crisis which seems bolted on in an effort to contemporise the story, yet offers very little to the narrative.
None of the four are particularly sympathetic (with the possible exception of Paul) and while the characters are largely well developed, it’s hard to become too invested in what happens to them because of the way in which they treat one another. It’s entertaining to watch four excellent actors play these unpleasant people with such aplomb, but only up to a point.
The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography looks nothing short of pristine, especially in the many exterior shots.
The audio options available are standard stereo, 5.1 surround, audio description or subtitles (which are only available in English). The stereo mix is perfectly clear with no clarity issues.
The extras available consist of a selection of deleted scenes with commentary from the editor and screenwriter, a commentary track from the director and two promotional featurettes, titled Genesis and Quartet. These amount to little more than a selection of talking heads soundbites from the director and cast, and unfortunately offer very little insight into the filmmakers’ ideas or processes.