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A BIGGER SPLASH (Italy/France 2015) ***
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson
Review by Gilbert Seah
Luca Guadagnino’s new film after his acclaimed hit I AM LOVE is based on the 1969 Jacques Deray sex/murder flick LA PISCINE (THE SWIMMING POOL). The title A BIGGER SPLASH could mean that this film is a more modern take of the then subtle thriller, this one louder and with more sex, nudity and verbal intercourse. To be fair, both films are quite good. A BIGGER SPLASH should be examined on its own, despite the initial bad reviews it received after the Venice Film Festival premiere last year.
The story is updated and the famous Alain Delon role is now undertaken by newly popular hunk, the Belgian Mattias Schoenaerts who plays a character called Paul de Smedt. (Delon played a character called Jean-Paul.) Oddly the other three characters, Paul’s lover, Marianne (Tilda Swinton), his best friend, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson) all retain their same names.
When the film opens, there is a shot of nude figure by the swimming pool. Rock legend Marianne Lane is recuperating from a throat operation on the volcanic island of Pantelleria with her partner Paul when iconoclast record producer and old flame Harry unexpectedly arrives with his daughter Penelope in tow. One can tell immediately that sex is going to be exchanged between different partners. And it happens as predicted.
The four characters (in the menage a quatre), are not particularly likeable personalities. Marianne can be considered a queen bitch, full of herself and served sexually by meek Paul which the audience will likely have no patience with, especially when he is subtly seduced by Penelope. Penelope is a spoilt rich kid. Harry is the most dislikable of the 4, being loud, offensive and abusive when he wants. On the other hand, these four are performed by 4 of filmdom’s top stars. Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton – I would see her in anything and she is always good in any film. She makes gargling sexy in the bedroom scene. Schoenaerts is now hot property after RUST AND BONE and DISORDER, proving himself apt in roles of brooding, sexy men. Fiennes and Johnson are also excellent to watch – especially them inhabiting horrid personalities.
Intriguing as the story is, the film could be shortened from its lengthy 2 hours. Two characters Mireille (Aurore Clement) and Sylvie (Lily McMenamy), Harry’s friends who show up invited by Harry could have been eliminated from the film without much effect. There is also a sudden shock in the plot at the film’s end when the chief Carabiniere announces the death of 7 Tunisian immigrants. One can only guess the purpose of this revelation as it is never made clear. It is likely that Guadagnino wishes to state that the problems of the rich, white elite are not the only problems faced by the police. The dead 7 make A BIGGER SPLASH. The snakes writhing by the pool probably is a metaphor for something else in the story.
Music and sound are appropriately used. The clanging sound invoking menace is one example. In another scene, Harry teases his listeners (and the audience) to identify “What is it? the drumming sound from a record he plays that turns out to be the banging of trash cans. The end credits Rolling Stones song “Emotional Rescue” is also suitably chosen.
The action slowly but surely unfolds in two hours of subtle sexual pleasure. Nudity, both male and female are abundant. Writer/director Guadagnino never makes it clear at the end what really happened between Penelope and Paul. It really does not matter in the long run, which makes all the guessing so neat.
A BIGGER SPLASH marks the return of the sexy moody thriller genre that was so popular in the 70’s and 80’s. Hope the film will make a return (I will refrain from using the obvious pun) to of more films in this genre.
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