A Bigger Splash (2015)

Recovering rock legend Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is vacationing with her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) (a would-be documentary filmmaker) on the volcanic island of Pantelleria, an Italian isle southwest of Sicily, when their idyllic repose is rudely interrupted by an uninvited guest … or should I say pest. When iconoclast record producer and Marianne’s former flame, Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), arrives (almost unannounced) wanting to gloat about his recently discovered daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), whom he’s dragged along with him, the couple’s peaceful retreat transforms into a nostalgia bathed cavort as tête-à-tête’s occur in which secrets are revealed, sparking off a whirlwind of jealousy, betrayal and obsession, the quartet caught in a scenario from which there is no escape.

A remake of Jacques Deray’s La Piscine (1969) — which, to be quite honest, I’ve never actually watched — A Bigger Splash has somehow managed to attract some decent talent: the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson and Matthias Schoenaerts, and for the life of me I can’t seem to understand why — perhaps they were all in dire need of some R&R under the hot Mediterranean sun. Ralph Fiennes does a lot of splashing about in a pool — we get to see Voldemort’s magic wand (yikes) — while Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson spend copious amounts time working on their tans. Just like recent art house yawns Youth (2015) and By The Sea (2015), both shot in sun-drenched exotic locales, the cast seem more concerned with checking out hot spots and doing the touristy thing — so, when did the actual filmmaking happen?

'What a smellsational morning.'
‘What a smellsational morning.’

Helmed by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, I Am Love (2009), A Bigger Splash — named after a pop painting by British artist David Hockney (don’t ask me why) — is a downright bore, an incoherent jumble, complete with disconnected scenes, muddled character motivations and disjointed editing, Guadagnino committed to showing off his motherland’s natural splendor — with the help of French cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) — as opposed to telling any sort of engaging story. Picturesque scenes aside, A Bigger Slash is a real snore-fest, running at 124-minutes (too long), overstaying its welcome at around the halfway mark. Sure, I’m certainly not the target audience here — even if I do slightly fall into the proposed demographic of 30 to 50 year-olds — but with that said, during a media screening in which I attended, I turned to see a fellow film critic — who does in fact fall into the said demographic — fast asleep, probably seeing a better movie in his personal ‘never-never land’ than the one being projected up on screen — sigh!

The script written by David Kajganich, The Invasion (2007) — based on a story by Alain Page — is all over the shop, its multiple narrative strands pretty much going nowhere; I guess since everybody else seems to be on holiday, so too is the plot. Interpersonal complexities are one-dimensional (at best) and never quite develop, with the hollow character arcs — thanks to a clear absence of emotional connection — leaving little to no impact. Elsewhere, depiction of law enforcement — who are shown to be a bunch of bumbling buffoons straight out a cheesy ‘70s French comedy — is especially appalling, and then comes the third-act ‘leap of faith’ twist that brings about the movie’s ‘psycho-thriller’ tag, but in my opinion, it’s dropped way too late, throwing off the picture’s already established tone and jarring the entire narrative. Look, If you’re gonna toss a ‘murder’ into the mix, don’t do it at the eleventh hour of a film that’s already past its used by date.

'I'll come to your emotional rescue ...'
‘I’ll come to your emotional rescue …’

Likewise, the choppy editing by Walter Fasano, I Am Love (2009), is distractingly uneven as A Bigger Splash is besieged with messy jump-cuts and an unwarranted amount close-ups/zoom-ins — the latter mostly being used to poor effect, perhaps inserted to generate a sense of voyeurism (but who really knows). Then we have meaningless shots of sumptuous cuisines and, oh … blobs of water, which add naught to a narrative that’s already struggling to sustain interest, while the random bursts of nudity — think bare-bottomed bathers and nipple baring dames — scream of sensuality (this state-of-undress taking on a fancy-free European sensibility), the picture’s eroticism far outweighing the doom-and-gloom that ‘punches in’ during the later passages.

But hey, there are some silver linings. The production design by Maria Djurkovic, The Imitation Game (2014) — in particular the dry-stone architecture, villa and post-war interiors — does instil surroundings with an unsettling fascist vibe. With a washed-out, almost ‘burnt’ aesthetic, the photography competently captures the salutary atmosphere of its isolated environment, the rocky terrain and black lava-flow landscapes giving off a treacherous sense of otherness (still, these vistas are far from outstanding). Similarly, The Rolling Stones soundtrack — functioning as a well-rooted pillar for the movie’s rock ‘n’ roll vibe — may easily win over those who have a penchant for the art of sound with a monologue by Harry (that’s certified accurate) on the creation of the ‘Moon Is Up’ track (taken from the Stones’ Voodoo Lounge album) being a sure high point — while the aforementioned account is true, Harry’s involvement with The Stones is certainly not.

Bon Appétit
Bon Appétit

Being a star-spangled vehicle, A Bigger Splash very much relies on the strength of its core performances, though most miss the mark and fail to make any sort of splash — what we’ve essentially got here is a mere toilet bowl ‘plomp.’ Despite being a balding hipster with a fondness for loud shirts, a committed Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) — being the clear standout — oozes with confidence as the over-enthusiastic, motor-mouth Harry — though after about five or so minutes, you really want to punch this guy in the face. A scene in which the zealous music maverick ‘dad-dances’ to The Rolling Stones’ ‘Emotional Rescue’ is probably one of the picture’s only redeeming moments.

Tilda Swinton, Adaptation (2002), is completely useless as the David Bowie-esque rock icon Marianne Lane, a character that’s forced to refrain from speaking after undergoing some sort of bogus throat surgery. Having literally no dialogue Swinton is required to convey Marianne’s emotion through facial expression and body language alone — a good excuse for the 55-year-old to focus on sightseeing instead of learning her lines. However, with a casual glam wardrobe made up of haute couture garments, custom-made by Christian Dior himself, Swinton at least looks spectacular sporting a variety of elegant evening gowns, breezy scarfs and chic sunglasses. Elsewhere, Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), playing Harry’s Lolita-like daughter Penelope, may be the dullest femme fatale I’ve ever seen (for someone with an appetite for naughtiness, she really bored the bejesus outta me), while Matthias Schoenaerts, Far from the Madding Crowd (2015), is a bit of a yawn as the insufferably dreary Paul De Smedt, a character whose portrayal lacks even the slightest ounce of passion.

Living on the edge
Living on the edge

Dubbed as an erotic drama-crime-mystery though playing out more like a self-indulgent vanity-project, A Bigger Splash is a film about sexual tension that (ironically) can’t seem to seduce its audience, due partly to the fact that the movie spends way too much time trying to be artsy fartsy. For instance, I get that a snake (clumsily shoehorned into proceedings) possibly acts as some sort of metaphor for temptation or original sin, but what’s a dead gecko falling onto a dinner table supposed to mean? Beats me. It’s all a little pretentious really. In the end, the conversation that followed my pre-release screening centered on one topic: ‘did you, or did you not see Dakota Johnson stark nekkid?’ For those who slept through the apparent ‘best part,’ it was boohoos all around. A Bigger Splash, certainly not … I think Guadagnino just drained the waterhole.

2 / 5 – Average

Reviewed by S-Littner

A Bigger Splash is released through Studio Canal Australia