A Bigger Splash is an exotic new paradise drama turned psychological thriller from director Luca Guadagnino. ‘Erotic’ may be a better word to use, because A Bigger Splash is a sensuous and seductive film that doesn’t shy away from skin or touch.
It’s loosely based on Jacques Deray’s The Swimming Pool and shares its title with David Hockney’s pop artwork, which depicts a pool with a diving board, set against a penthouse and palm trees using simple opaque colours and straight lines, whilst a splash of explosive white water takes our attention. While there aren’t any humans in Hockney’s famous picture, Guadagnino has filled his with Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes.
The story, while light on plotting, follows the secluded vacation of a famous rock star and a filmmaker, which is disrupted by the unexpected visit of an old friend and his daughter. The once peaceful and idyllic seaside holiday gets railroaded by a blast from the past as flashbacks explain the baggage and present day turmoil as ulterior motives and temptation threatens to ruin everything.
A Bigger Splash echoes Kubrick’s Lolita, Linklater’s Before Midnight and Polanski’s Chinatown. These great filmmakers get a tip of the hat as Guadagnino carves his own path, leaning on elements from these iconic films. The sultry forbidden romance and temptation at the heart of Lolita is on show, the meandering dialogue, storytelling and laid-back Italian volcanic island setting of Pantelleria, off the Sicilian coast echoes Before Midnight, while the drama’s twists-and-turns and sweltering atmosphere pay homage to Chinatown.
“Eat your heart out, Katrina…”
We’re treated to fine performances from a stellar cast as Swinton works her nuanced magic as a recovering David Bowie meets Lady Gaga style rock star, while a quietly confident Schoenaerts and flamboyant Fiennes scuffle for her attentions. Swinton always delivers and in this film, she gets a chance to express herself almost without words, owing to her character’s condition. Margot Robbie was originally set to star in this film, but the mantle was passed on to Dakota Johnson, who really owns the part as a not-so-innocent temptress. Fiennes is a repressed jack-in-the-box making up for lost time and his dance to The Rolling Stones and flippant energy is almost worth the admission alone as he provides much of the get-go to this meandering film.
Guadagnino has a great eye for what works visually, concocting a provocative and sleek psychological drama thriller through sexy visuals and firm direction with a beautiful volcanic island backdrop. The undercover travelogue is our bread-and-butter as we too get a chance to enjoy the summer holiday escape along with the actors, who immerse themselves in their characters, embracing the whole experience. The innate pleasures and hedonistic reverberations are in full effect as every scene tries to take you there by activating your senses.
It’s all about living life to the full and being present in the moment, which means that if you’re expecting conventional structure you may be disappointed. The third act doesn’t really build to the crescendo you’d imagine, but remains thought-provoking with an interesting social commentary relating to passport control. It’s the sort of film you should watch in your bathing costume… probably with a chaperone.