A loose remake of 1969’s The Swimming Pool, A Bigger Splash is director Luca Guadagnino’s follow up to the critically lauded (but overrated) I Am Love. Unpredictable and occasionally involving drama is less than the sum of its parts.
Tilda Swinton is Marianne Lane, a legendary rock star who has retreated to Pantelleria, a small island off Sicily, to recuperate from a throat operation that has rendered her speechless. She’s there with boyfriend Paul (Schoenaerts), a documentary maker who doesn’t take too kindly to the rude intrusion of Ralph Fiennes’ brash Harry, Marianne’s former producer and lover. With him is Penelope (Johnson), a watchful siren whom Harry has just discovered is his daughter, although there is some doubt over his parentage. As Marianne and Harry contemplate rekindling the old flame and Penelope gives Paul the glad eye over the rim of her shades, a simmering sexual tension distrust builds…
And this is the soup that A Bigger Splash dives into. An exploration of jealousy and attraction, the story can at times feel like it has no direction. It ambles along, content to just hang out in the company of these four self-serving characters as they lounge about the pool and eat food and down daiquiris over candlelight and chat about their careers and their futures. Sounds monotonous and pretentious but Fiennes’ motormouth party lover keeps the energy levels up, and one is always aware of the tension underneath the pleasantries and the anticipation of when Guadagnino is going to shake things up, which he does in an unexpected fashion.
And there’s something to be said about the scenery, which these scenes play out in front of. Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography will do wonders for the island’s tourism with the camera sweeping over grand landscapes of olive trees, through picturesque side streets, and settling on restaurants jutting out of mountainsides. Gorgeous stuff.
But it’s all a giant so what. Hampered by a lack of dialogue Marianne remains a mystery despite Guadagnino’s awkward flashbacks, and Harry is a cartoon figure. Johnson doesn’t look like she’s convinced herself she can pull this off. The only character of real note is Paul, but Schoenaerts is asked to do little more than grumble and hunch.
Pretty but empty.