A BIGGER SPLASH Review

a bigger splash 2

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Genre: Drama

Year: 2016

From a roaring arena, filled to the brim with thousands of cheering fans, we cut to a quiet Italian island town. We spy a reclusive, lustful tourist couple, one of them is the lady we saw on the massive stage a second ago. Her makeup gone, the fans absent. Silence and ease permeate through the serene landscape. A snake tries to make its way onto her sea-view property, but she gets her boyfriend to throw it away. Surely, this snake will find its way into her home soon. And it does, in the form of an abrasive former lover; his arrival marked by the thunderous roar of an airplane that overshadows our two peaceful leads. So much for their discreet getaway.

Returning to the director’s chair with Tilda Swinton once again in the front seat, Italian auteur Luca Guadagnino has released A BIGGER SPLASH, a sexy, stylish, and gorgeously expressionist remake of Jacques Deray’s 1969 drama LA PISCINE. Featuring a marvelous ensemble cast, Guadagnino’s film is quite literally bigger in every sense of the word. Gorgeous panoramic vistas, exquisite performances, elegant symbolic motifs, and a fascinating attention to detail in the editing room make for an ensemble piece that capitalizes on its cinematic medium so as to never feel like a piece of lazily photographed theatre.

Ralph Fiennes as “Harry Hawkes” and Dakota Johnson as “Penelope Lanier” in A BIGGER SPLASH. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Roses are Red,

Pool Water’s Blue,

My Daughter’s So Hot,

Damn I Wish We Could Screw

Naturally, A BIGGER SPLASH has tapped into a number of Deray’s narrative beats, but has changed Swinton’s backstory to allow the actresses subtle physicality to truly shine. Swinton does not play a journalist like in Deray’s interpretation, but a rockstar whose recent throat injury has made it difficult for her to speak. Guadagnino is insistent on not dropping every vital piece of character backstory, allowing for Swinton’s interactions with her leads to consistently inform through subtext. Dakota Johnson’s mysteriously quiet performance establishes an unsettling sense of incestuous affection between her and Fiennes, implying an unwanted third wheel of sexual unease amidst this already overzealous love triangle.

Where Swinton’s performance in Guadagnino’s former film, I AM LOVE, impressed through her multi-lingual performance, A BIGGER SPLASH allows her to shine as a force that can literally only speak if provoked. Her hidden frustration of her own fame and her vulnerability beside the electric, operatically passionate Fiennes despite her facade of outward strength allow for her interactions with him to be some of the finest acting of the year so far. As such, internal and external conflicts between each character sizzles to a crispy finale, utilizing Deray’s titular piscine as the centerpiece to the action: a liquid gladiator pit in which the men test their bravado, each racing to impress the love of their life, violently splashing the water, causing it to be the only space in this beautiful venue that ever becomes quite as loud as the sardine-packed arena from the beginning of the film.

a bigger splash fiennes

Fiennes trying to control all the praise I’m giving him and Swinton

The camera’s expressive movements, varying in velocity depending on the emotional state of the characters cleverly asserts Guadagnino’s control over the scene, turning what could be a beautiful but lazy milieu into a visual playground. A BIGGER SPLASH never feels like a slapdash attempt at putting a stage play on the silver screen, but rather channels the qualities of an early Polanski film, notably the savage love triangle of KNIFE IN THE WATER and the reclusive, middle-of-nowhere qualities of CUL-DE-SAC. As such, clever uses of location, spastic edits, and occasional incorporations of sped-up footage effectively communicate what is going on inside of a character’s head.

This decidedly New Wave approach to his experimental edits, sunglass tinting, and occasional fourth wall breaks make for an extremely unique cinematic experience, but one that is sure to lose a viewer or two in the process. While many of Guadagnino’s experimental techniques felt squarely situated in the realm of art-house and receive my undying praise for their bold execution, his frequent edits during a handful of quieter sequences unfortunately detract from the fantastic performances. Nonetheless, thanks to his commitment to his leads, A BIGGER SPLASH mostly manages to recover from any aesthetic choices that don’t land as intended.

a bigger splash working

The working title was LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS but Guadagnino found himself in a libel suit with famed rock band Good Charlotte

Guadagnino has accomplished an incredibly complex exercise in restraint, creating a 21st century drama that feels positively 70s in its wild, sexy, outward persona. It’s a film that demands to be consumed through its character’s personalities, with each narrative beat modulating stylistic qualities in order to channel the mind of these madly spiraling protagonists. It makes sense why Guadagnino made Swinton a rockstar, because only the roaring onslaught that’s accompanied with the crescendoing applause of superstardom can precisely articulate the manic powder-keg that’s waiting to go off.

Verdict: Recommend

Sergio Zaciu

“When I make love, I realize eating steak was the preferable alternative.”
Sergio is the Crossfader Film Editor and a film connoisseur from Romania. He pretends to understand culinary culture enough to call himself an LA foodie, but he just can’t manage to like scallops.

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