I usually love movies like “A Bigger Splash,” a sensual, eccentric art house homage to classic Italian cinema that’s visually indulgent, filled with complex characters, and is horrifically kooky to the core. This time the film never quite achieves the greatness that it could’ve been, but it’s still a mildly entertaining ride (an undoubtedly an acquired taste). It starts and ends strong but the center simply isn’t compelling enough to hold everything together.
The movie takes place on the Italian island of Pantelleria, itself the perfect setting for the bizarre story. Rock star Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is on holiday to rest after a vocal chord operation with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). When former boyfriend and music producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes) shows up unannounced with his newly-discovered daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), things slowly turn a relaxing, peaceful respite into a jumble of emotional (and physical) wreckage.
The strong performances (along with a rich, seductive storyline of betrayal) carry this movie. Swinton kicks major ass in her role by spending most of the film acting with a whisper or simple gestures. She’s perfect for the part and handles it with an effortless aloofness that only she could pull off. Johnson gives an impressive performance as a young Lolita type with some serious issues; this role earns her some strong acting cred. Schoenaerts is so beautifully understated in his portrayal of Paul that he fades softly into the background, a supporting performance with the heft of a lead.
The complexity of the characters is stunning, but it’s Fiennes who steals the movie. He doesn’t just steal the film, he grabs it by the balls and takes off running, never giving out of steam. If there’s an actor that deserves an Oscar for a role, its Fiennes in this film.
Warning: This film contains explicit sex and graphic nudity and is not for everyone. Prudes or indie film virgins need not apply.
“A Bigger Splash” is a languidly-paced indie movie that celebrates the timeless values of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.
As the movie opens, rock superstar Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and her boyfriend, documentarian Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) are enjoying a vacation in a remote Italian island as Marianne heals from surgery on her vocal chords. Their life is upended when Marianne’s music producer, sometime lover, and long-time friend Harry (Ralph Fiennes) arrives for a visit with Harry’s daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in tow. The quartet spends much time listening to music, doing drugs, and becoming entangled in a lover’s quadrangle where loyalties and friendships are tested.
Very little happens in “A Bigger Splash,” and at the same time, a great deal happens. The movie is replete with long scenes filled with dancing, music, and sexual tension that pushes boundaries and edges into taboo. The attentive and absorbed viewer is rewarded, as the acting is so strong and the scripting so realistic that the tension is palpable, weighing like a heavy fog over the film and informing every single scene.
All four of the principal actors do an excellent job. While I am not usually a fan of either Swinton or Johnson, both actors are incredibly strong in their roles. But it is Fiennes that truly shines as Harry, a force of nature that wreaks havoc in virtually every situation and commands attention wherever he goes.
While I liked and appreciated the movie, it’s hard for me to recommend it. It’s clear to me — based on the reactions of the people who saw it with me — that the audience for “A Bigger Splash” is extremely limited. Very few, if any, responded well to the film, with most people either feeling bored or bewildered. As a result, it is with a word of caution to you that I endorse it.