***1/2 (out of five)
Luca Guadagnino follows up his surprisingly successful – and polarizing This Is Love with another Tilda Swinton vehicle in a lighter vein. A Bigger Splash is a loose remake of 1969’s French La Piscine, and indeed, a heck of a lot of it takes place around a very beautiful swimming pool.
That pool belongs to a villa on the Italian island of Pantelleria, where rock star Marianne (Swinton) and her beau Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) are vacationing. Along comes her ex-beau Harry, an extremely successful rock and roll producer, and his recently-discovered daughter. Sexual and romantic tensions simmer, by the pool and elsewhere.
Harry is played by Ralph Fiennes, and his daughter Penelope by Dakota Johnson, and these two inspired pieces of casting give the film its zing. Swinton is good, of course – she always is – but we’ve seen her in this kind of role before, and she can kind of do it in her sleep: Marianne is cool, and so is Swinton. But Fiennes, whose out-of-the-box comic performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel gave Guagagnino the clever idea to cast him, gives us something we’ve never seen from him before, with gusto and huge energy. Harry is a big big character and Fiennes gives a big big performance that is spellbinding and – the cursed cliché of the film critic – revelatory.
Schoenaerts continues to be excellent in every thing he does, but Paul is the least interesting character, the reactor rather than the actor in this house full of extroverts. I wasn’t sure whether Paul was meant to be American or European – his accent is kind of both – but, when Hollywood is ready, so is this lumbering Belgian.
A Bigger Splash has little to say; a sort-of subplot involving refugees on the island results in little more than a cute joke at the end rather than a powerful look at what’s going on in Europe at the moment. It’s a sun-kissed vine of a film, whose plot (which is really incredibly slight) is entirely subservient to its presentation, on an antipasto platter, of four excellent performances. You kind of go to this movie to go to this house on Pantelleria, and hang out with these rock gods – and why wouldn’t you? They’re beautiful, sexy and fun.