A Bigger Splash
Dir: Luca Guadagnino
David Hockney’s famous pop art painting of understatement and stillness, A Bigger Splash provides the name for this remake of the 1969 French film La Piscine which starred Alain Delon. Hockney’s painting, a masterpiece of restrained motion and clinical design couldn’t be further from the French original that revitalised Romy Schneider’s career. So where does this new version fit in?
Bowie-like androgynous rock star, Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is in recovery from throat surgery at her isolated villa on a remote Italian island with boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) when former flame, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), and his daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson) arrive for a visit. Peace is shattered by the new arrivals, particularly Harry’s neutron bomb blast of nostalgia and energy. Before anyone knows it, the lines of relationship are blurred and jarring change is inevitable.
So the painting? Well much of Guadagnino’s film centres around a swimming pool, as does Hockney’s work of art. And the film certainly has a sense of stillness about it before the arrival of Fienne’s character. But when he arrives, the film kicks up a notch. Who knew Ralph Fiennes had this performance in him? For a career that has focused mostly on performances of control (The English Patient)and occasional menace (Voldemort in the Harry Potter films), Fiennes’ work here is a revelation of vivacious love of life, talking non-stop at a rate of knots and dragging all along with him in pursuit of anarchic experience. That Marianne once loved him and is now with the much quieter Paul is one of the film’s mysteries with which the script teases us.
Swirling throughoutare themes of commitment and joi de vivre, jealousy and the loss felt when one's reason to be is taken away.
What starts as a study of such relationships shifts tone, possibly jarringly, in the film’s third act. A thriller? That’s not what we were expecting! Previously, the film had felt like a party that we were, ahem, party to, watching the protagonists deal with each other’s foibles and idiosyncrasies. But when that neutron bomb explodes, what has been set up to be shocking doesn’t have quite the impact the filmmaker might have intended. Instead the film seems to retreat into the same sharp lines reminiscent of Hockney’s painting.
With gorgeous scenery occasionally punctuated by largely unnecessary flashbacks, Swinton is a little hamstrung by an inability to speak for much of the film. That’s a new twist not found in the original film. But she works with great alacrity, drawing nuance from the threads of her rock star back story.
Worth the price of admittance for one scene featuring a lithe Harry dancing to the Rolling Stones, A Bigger Splash might have benefitted from more waves but does well with the swell it generates.