In the silent opening shots of the movie we are painted a picture of a former rock star (Marianne Lane played by Tilda Swinton) living peacefully in her own little bubble with her attractive younger lover Paul (Matthias Schoenarts), on an idyllic rural island. This utopia is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of Marianne’s boisterous and overbearing ex-flame, and former manager Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his illegitimate daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), whom he has only recently discovered exists.
Intent on bringing the world of Rock and Roll to rural Pantalleria and ruining Marianne’s mute recovery from throat surgery, Harry is the relentless life and soul of the party much to the annoyance of Paul who appears to want nothing but solace for himself and Marianne. From here on we are given a wealth of scenes in tribute to the musical backdrop of the movie such as a Rolling Stones jam session with some hilarious ‘Dad dancing’ from Fiennes, who then decides to take Marianne out and turn the local pub into a karaoke extravaganza.
Pool parties, dinners and spectacular views; A Bigger Splash seems like the perfect holiday. However the film is plagued with tension and unresolved issues and through a series of flashbacks we learn of the hedonistic relationship between Marianne and Harry, who makes it clear that he wants her back.
The plot thickens when through a series of long lustful stares, it appears that Penelope (who has ‘daddy issues’) has her eye on Paul, who, it materialises, is a former alcoholic who tried to take his own life the year before. In true European style the film features lots of nudity, sex and an explosive chemistry between all four characters. In an adulterous game of cat and mouse, the whole movie becomes a form of foreplay, with lots of long silences, sensual close ups and temptation all around. The question is who will stray first?!
As well as the main plot, director Luca Guadagnino features a series a political and social statements throughout the movie such as the mistreatment of migrants, hypocrisy of the police, and the phenomenon of the celebrity. The movie takes an almighty turn after one fateful night which sees the demise of one of the main characters followed by the flawed investigation of the Italian police. Blind-sighted by Marianne Lane’s superstar status they appear completely content in blaming the incidental death on the Tunisian migrants despite having no evidence; a form of prejudice highlighted throughout the film.
By the end, the aesthetic beauty of Pantalleria and the glamour of the music industry appears completely tainted by the tragic circumstances of the movie, with both the island and characters becoming a façade hiding the ugly truth. The title of the movie, based on David Hockney’s famous painting of the same name, suddenly becomes poignant as the swimming pool acts as the metaphorical stage for all the most climactic parts of the plot. As the pool is drained so does the light of film and we’re left with damaged characters who have an uncertain future and still appear to battling the same demons they started with; a very ‘European Ending’ as opposed to the ‘Hollywood Happy Ever After’.
The casting in A Bigger Splash is truly magnificent and teamed with Luca Guadagnino’s stylistic quality is the standout feature of the movie. Despite being mute for most of the film Tilda Swinton’s emblematic silence speaks volumes as the troubled artist in turmoil between her past and present, paired with Matthias Schoenarts' strong-but-silent (for very different reasons) presence on screen.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Ralph Fienne’s comedic, egotistical character who brings much comedy and witty dialogue to the plot, as well as Dakota Johnson who does the deceiving ‘little girl lost’ routine so enticingly well. Watching the film feels like being a fly on the wall in the world’s most complicated love square; full of twists and turns this alluring script will keep you on the edge of your seat with a head full of unanswered questions…
Book tickets to see A Bigger Splash at FACT.