Undeniably, Luca Guadagnino’s latest feature, A Bigger Splash, makes for quite a gorgeous mix: sun-kissed, sexually-charged and teetering on the edge of treacherous. Moving chaotically at the centre of all this; four people with a complex history and an even more uncertain future.
Lying low in their isolated villa on an Italian island, Bowie-esque rockstar Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and her filmmaker boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) find their relative calm upheaved by the abrupt arrival of music producer and former flame Harry (Ralph Fiennes) with his newly discovered daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in tow. Gradually their initially innocent and carefree holiday inertia transforms into something much more terse and volatile – a result of historic desires and encounters rising to the surface.
This core group of people find themselves navigating the confines of their shared past as well as the villa and its rural backdrop. Marianne, the former wild child rocker now blissfully domesticated and recovering from throat surgery, spends most of her time unable to talk; the two men covertly oppose one another as, common factor of Marianne aside, Harry’s inexhaustible over-exuberance and disregard for boundaries occasionally clashes with Paul’s bristly wariness; and then Penelope: quietly radiating a disinterest bordering on contempt, and potentially manipulative. Each of them vying for another’s attention.
The quaint alchemy of the interaction between them is the driving force, a solid exercise in character study. And in the context of the exotic surroundings elevated by a whimsical shooting style, it pulls you into their ups, downs and their standstills – all the way up to an unexpected dark turn. This is where A Bigger Splash, takes a somewhat jarring creative direction as the general tone is diverted to a more offbeat territory. In the context of the lazy holiday feel with a slow build of flickering discord and subtle undertone of suspicion, the dramatic climax feels not so much shocking as a little disorienting and the party’s subsequent reaction to it is lacking.
It’s hard to put a finger on the extent to which it’s all the more intriguing for this development and to what extent it simply becomes emotionally scattered. Nevertheless, they – particularly Swinton and Fiennes, eternally sublime – carry you along, observing their antics and idiosyncrasies. As in some real-life getaways, stay for the good times but leave everything else (in this case resonance, sympathy, contemplation of any tragedy) behind you.
A Bigger Splash is out now on DVD & Blu-Ray