A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash UK Poster
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts and Tilda Swinton
In UK Cinemas February 12th, 2016

by Joanna Orland

Alluring visuals, fantastic performances and a standout soundtrack – A Bigger Splash is a sensual, unpredictable, beautifully filmed erotic thriller.

Sometimes you think a film is quite good, but then you sit down to write its review and you realize that through its underplayed subtext, it may actually be genius.  On the surface, A Bigger Splash is a visual feast of Sicilian sunsets and landscapes, beautiful food and beautiful people.  Diving deeper, the film explores not just the lifestyle of the rich and famous, but also intricate relationships, the psychology of emotions, and through a nearly dismissive subtext, the complexities of modern social issues.

Based on the 1969 film La Piscine, A Bigger Splash is set on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria where Marianne (Swinton) and Paul (Schoenaerts) have reclused themselves while silent Marianne is recovering from throat surgery needed to preserve her singing career.  Marianne’s former lover Harry (Fiennes) rings the couple from the airplane as he’s descending on Pantelleria with his newly discovered daughter Penelope (Johnson).  Harry and Penelope are invited to stay with Marianne and Paul, to Paul’s dismay, and the foursome begin to revisit their pasts and persevere towards altering their futures.

The relationship between Marianne, Paul and Harry is the most complicated of the story.  Marianne used to be romantically involved with Harry for six years, Harry became close with Paul and introduced him to Marianne, Paul and Marianne have now been together for six years.  Penelope uses the excellent metaphor of the LP to analogize singer Marianne’s love life – reminding her how a vinyl used to have six songs per side, and how maybe now it is time for Marianne to turn the record over again.

Penelope’s character is the weakest as this story is primarily about the threesome of Marianne, Paul and Harry.  Her presence enhances Harry’s character as their relationship is explored, she is also a seductress in the eyes of Paul, but overall her role is not a crucial one.  Her main trait of being almost lusted for by her father with their creepy dynamic is, while uncomfortable to watch, interesting as it provokes reaction in Marianne and Paul.  Marianne confronts Harry on the situation, giving us further insight into his distinct yet complex character.

With such beautiful people at the centre of this relationship story, their beauty matched only by the scenery of the island itself and its scrumptious delicacies, the soundtrack doesn’t have a choice but to be excellent as it is embedded into the lives of these fascinating characters.  The music choices over all are glorious fun – and even in dark moments, the music can lighten the mood to give a scene an entirely new meaning.  The standout song in this film in the standout scene in this film, highlights the standout performance in this film which is by Ralph Fiennes.  As he plays The Rolling Stones song Moon Is Up, Harry describes his major influence on the song as he worked with Charlie Watts to encourage him to use a trash can instead of drum set for this track.  He then breaks into an unabashed karaoke style performance of Emotional Rescue.  It’s a brilliant song and a brilliant performance.

Music is such a key element to this film, not only in its scoring, but in defining its characters.  In addition to the scene described above, another key scene which defines Harry and his allure is the best karaoke montage in cinematic history.  Harry and Marianne are at a local bar in the town’s centre amidst an Italian festival.  Harry’s seemingly endless karaoke session, cut together in montage form, draws in the entire community as they are mesmerized by his charismatic performance.  He seduces not only Marianne and his own daughter Penelope in this scene, but an entire Italian village.  With two key scenes, Harry’s character is defined through his relationship with music.

Fashion is also a key element to this stunning film – and it’s Tilda Swinton who carries it through her array of gorgeous and unique outfits, and a distinct pair of sunglasses which give us insight into Marianne’s perspective of events as they unfold onscreen through the reflection in her mirrored specs.  This use of fashion solidifies that nothing is wasteful in this film – every element is well thought out and put to use, enhancing characters or narrative.

Another key element which is merely a backdrop to the foursome’s actions, but potentially relates to the true message at the core of the film, is the presence of the illegal immigrants traveling to the island via Tunisia.  Their presence is felt throughout the film, but their impact is minimal at first glance.  As the audience is allured by the problems of the privileged, the greater problems at hand are whitewashed.  As everything in this film is meticulously thought out, from the most minor shot to the most casual of outfits, the immigrants presence is also very intentional, and adds a darker global social subtext to an already dark character study.

Beautiful, alluring, sensual – A Bigger Splash is a bigger film than it appears to be at first glance.  Dive deep!


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