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If you thought that Oscar Isaac's dancing in "Ex Machina" was a sight
to behold, then wait until you see this. Directed by Luca Guadagnino,
who is best known for his well-received work on "I Am Love" in 2009,
this has to be a shoe-in for the most screwed up family holiday of the
year. Tilda Swinton, who has worked with Guadagnino in the past, stars
as voiceless rockstar Marianne Lane, who has retired to a remote island
off the coast of Italy in order to recover from an operation on her
vocal chords. Joining her is partner and filmmaker Paul (Matthias
Schoenaerts) who, as we see through flashbacks, is introduced to Lane
by record producer Harry Hawkes, a rambunctious and zany character
played in true dickhead style by Ralph Fiennes. After intruding on
Marianne and Paul's get-away with his daughter Penelope (Dakota
Johnson), who seems to share a rather suspicious and discomforting
relationship with her new-found father, it becomes clear that Harry has
some designs on winning his ex-lover and colleague Marianne back. Set
in the beautiful Pantellaria, and often around an enticing swimming
pool, what seems like an above-board retreat soon turns pretty sour.
Having competed for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, which
saw it receive rave reviews from many critics, can "A Bigger Splash"
live up to its impactful title?
The first half an hour, or so, of "A Bigger Splash" is absolutely irresistible. Guadagnino directs with a lot of style and personality, and proves himself quite capable of capturing a beautiful landscape on screen. Having seen what Paolo Sorrentino did with the alpine hotel in "Youth", it seems as if it runs in the blood of Italian directors. A very interesting atmosphere and tone is also set; the film is playful and somewhat raunchy, but also quite ambiguous and eccentric. Playing into this are the excellent performances which, throughout the entire duration of the feature, hold up the narrative. Tilda Swinton, who actually suggested that her character shouldn't be able to speak herself, does incredibly well with a very physical performance of gestures, facial reactions and whispers, and despite the age gap, her romance with Schoenaerts' Paul feels quite believable. The stand-out performer though, which is saying something in a film starring Tilda Swinton, is Ralph Fiennes, who shows his superb range with a crazy portrayal of an insufferable, irritating nuisance.
Despite the character he is playing, Fiennes is obscenely engaging, and a scene in which he busts multiple moves is both hilarious and striking in a way that very few films are. I might tentatively suggest, even at this early stage in the year, that his performance in "A Bigger Splash" could be an early contender for an Oscar nomination. Dakota Johnson rounds out the leading quartet with a sultry turn as Penelope, a mysterious, curious figure that does add a bit of youthful spice to proceedings. You have to commend the central cast for their excellent chemistry with one another; while there is an excessiveness and heightened sense of reality involved in "A Bigger Splash", its feet are kept on the ground by the intriguing interactions that take place between the colliding personalities. Guadagnino is successful in his attempt to create a palpable awkwardness between ex-lovers, father and daughter, husband and wife and for a while this allows the movie to feel rather dynamic. The movie features an excellent soundtrack as well, which really helps you sink into the wonderful surroundings depicted in the film, and you do get the sense that you're almost along for the ride on this dysfunctional holiday with the characters in question. "A Bigger Splash" is an accomplished film in a number of ways, and really is gorgeous to look at.
It's rather frustrating then that "A Bigger Splash", despite the film's achievements, feels like a missed opportunity. Although each of the main quartet are interesting in their own particular way, there is a clear absence of emotional connection to any of the central characters; their arcs are ultimately unsatisfying and their experiences seem to make very little impact upon the audience. Seeing these well-known names act in rather unfamiliar and off-the-cuff ways is bright and unexpected initially, but well into the second act of the film, the novelty of the feature starts to wear off. At a runtime of over two hours, too much of "A Bigger Splash" feels like a spinning of wheels, and although it would be unfair to label the movie as totally pretentious, there is a heavy-handidness of theme which comes across as rather jarring. The narrative, in several ways, just doesn't sustain itself; after a while it's quite easy to lose interest in what happens to each character, and they all seem so distanced from reality that any kind of relatability is ultimately sacrificed.
It's also fair to say that the setting, as wonderful as the holiday home is, becomes quite stale after a prolonged amount of time, and the claustrophobic, limited scope of the feature doesn't resonate emotionally in any particular way. The performances are great, but they don't really end up contributing to anything that is remotely substantial. This is summed up in the final act which, irrespective of a somewhat surprising plot-twist, doesn't resolve the issues addressed in the movie very well at all. The final scene is totally bizarre in its own right, but the entire conclusion to "A Bigger Splash" stunk of whimsical nonsense, and offered no pleasing or arresting closure to the overall narrative which had taken place. I admit that I might be missing something beneath the surface of this movie's glossy sheen, but the final stages of the film are handled so erratically and messily that it somewhat spoils the promise that "A Bigger Splash" clearly has.
While she rests her voice after throat surgery, a David Bowie-esque
rock legend, Marianne (Tilda Swinton), and her documentary-filmmaker
boyfriend of 6 years, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), relax in the remote
Italian paradise of Pantelleria. Her record producer, mutual friend of
both and former flame of Marianne, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), brings his
estranged daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), to spend time with the
couple and, mostly, interrupt the vacation. Tensions flare as Harry's
ulterior motives to steal Marianne back after having 'given her' to
Paul, while Penelope's relationships with her father and Paul come into
question. Jacques Deray adapted this story once before in his 1969 film
La Piscine, but Luca Guadagnino's 2015 iteration relies on its sharp
sense for revelations of secrets and lies to draw us into its narrative
and wrap us up in the impression of its characters. It works for the
most part, but largely due to the efforts of the talented, committed
It's films like A Bigger Splash that make us appreciate the largely underserved Ralph Fiennes. He showed comic potential as another Harry in In Bruges, and just last year his dry wit anchored the ensemble cast of The Grand Budapest Hotel, but he's a riot in A Bigger Splash. Having not seen any of Guadagnino's previous films, I wasn't expecting this to be so playfully comedic at first as it initially focuses on the awkwardness of the situation. Fortunately, as most of this is sourced from Fiennes's boorish behavior, he absolutely radiates off the screen, singing, dancing, and frequently stripping bare naked to swim. While this wouldn't have gotten Oscar attention even if it were still scheduled to release in 2015 with a more forgiving release strategy, a consecutive Best Actor in a Comedy Golden Globe nomination wouldn't have been out of the question, as Fiennes is hitting a new stride this decade which, somewhere down the line, should equate to the awards momentum he rode back in the 90s.
Tilda Swinton, an equally reliable talent, nearly measures up to Fiennes, but her character calls for a dialed-down approach that she's cut her teeth in already. As her character recovers from throat surgery, she's a near silent participant in most scenes, except when it's absolutely necessary to whisper or in its few and admittedly unnecessary flashbacks, which just paint what we already suspected rather than tell us anything new. Even silently, the nuances on her face are expertly controlled and she is the key to the balance of the heightened tone and raw emotion of the film. Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson, this decade's new kids in town, are certainly out of their depth compared to Swinton and Fiennes. While Schoenaerts appears convincingly irritated, he doesn't have the conviction to hit the high notes his character requires later. Johnson is firmly on the sidelines for the most part, but given a better film than Fifty Shades of Grey, she's guilty of chewing on every juicy line she gets to the point of indulgence. Both are mostly good, but notably outshined by their experienced counterparts.
However solid its cast may be, the film does struggle with a choppy edit. It's littered with distracting continuity errors, unnecessary jump cuts and unmotivated closeups and push-ins the latter being mostly on delectable food and, of course, pools of water, though this may just be flourishes of Guadagnino's typical style. It captures the therapeutic atmosphere of its environment, and with the frequent nudity by its main foursome, the sensuality far outweighs the darkness that unfurrows in its latter passages. It takes a big leap of faith in its third act but it mostly suffers from a lack of conclusiveness than its thrills and tonal shift. While the entangled web of these characters' pasts is intriguing and engaging, it doesn't appear to have a consistent point to make outside of the nature of temptation and recovery, two well travelled paths. A Bigger Splash is ultimately a mixed bag of hits and misses, but it'll find a passionate niche that will embrace it for its more tantalizing sequences.
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The director's prior "I Am Love" ultimately transcended its more
pretentious, arbitrary aspects with a certain feeling of epic
emotionality. But this time around there isn't enough substance or
originality in other departments to detract attention from how...well,
pretentious and arbitrary many of his directorial choices are. To an
extent there's interest in simply watching the well-cast stars go
through their paces: Fiennes plays one of his most extroverted
characters; Swinton has magnetism as usual in a contrasting figure
(contrasting because her rock-star has to be silent while recovering
from surgery--but a laughable flashback where she sings in a recording
studio blows any belief that we're watching a credible musical talent);
Schoenaerts is attractive and earnest; Johnson is good playing a
petulant brat who uses her sexual allure in obvious (yet successful)
ways. If you've ever wanted to see any of these actors full-frontal,
here's your big chance, since there's a lot of nudity here that doesn't
seem to exist for much reason beyond producing a "Look, s/he's taken it
all off, too!" reaction.
But after a while you realize that as colorfully played as these figures are, none of them are drawn with enough depth to be genuinely interesting, and in fact they're largely annoying--to each other, and to us. It's predictable that the 2nd, vaguely incestuous "couple" who make an invasive surprise visit are going to disrupt the idyll and emotional security of the main couple who have hoped to escape just such company. It's predictable that there will be infidelity, and that sooner or later something violent is going to happen. Yet it's very hard to care about any of this.
That the director thinks his actors/characters are endlessly fascinating is obvious--otherwise why on Earth would he stage scenes like the one in which two of them invade a karaoke bar, and though neither of them can sing very well, we're supposed to believe they quickly have half the island populace raptly watching their performance? Judging from "I Am Love" and this, I've got to assume the director himself is a product of jet-setting wealth who automatically assumes the wealthy and privileged are special, fascinating creatures. Yet "Bigger Splash" inadvertently provides the truthful end to that sentence: "...only to each other."
In terms of image and editing, the film is flashy in often pointless, mannered ways that to my mind are neither beautiful or interesting...just show-offy and empty, the flourishes of a director who thinks flamboyant stylistic gestures = a true "artist," without worrying what they actually MEAN, if anything. (He's made a documentary about Bertolucci, and while the latter has certainly made some uneven, mannered work, he comes by instinctively everything that Guadagnino does in an imitative, pretentious way.) Of course, some will be taken in by it, since some people will always fall for Art that labels itself as such.
For all the talent it deploys, though, "Bigger Splash" is ultimately just a particularly pretentious variation on "erotic thriller" material, without much real tension, and certainly without any real substance. It's not terrible, but it's ultimately pretty trivial.
By the way, if you want a laugh, read Luca Guadagnino's Wikipedia bio. It's one of those Wiki entries that sounds like it was written by the subject (and/or his publicist), as it solemnly gushes over his "curiosity and passion for diverse artistic disciplines" including the company he founded that "conceives and implements luxury communications for luxury brands." I didn't know about THAT before, but it sure isn't surprising that he'd have a background in high-end advertising, the center of the universe for pretentious stylistic gestures about nothing.
I'm clearly in the minority here, but I absolutely hated this movie.
Every character were annoying and not likable at all. I'm not really
sure what the point of the movie was. I kept thinking it would get
better the longer I stayed, but it didn't. The only redeemable thing
about this movie was the lovely Tilda Swinton, and her beautiful
wardrobe. Sadly, with no voice in the movie, she was still the most
exciting character to watch.
Dakota Johnson (or her character at least) was just horrible. Tried to come off as young and sexy, but was just boring and dull. I don't really know if she is a talented actress because of the roles she has chosen as of late.
Either way, I do not recommend this movie to anyone!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I almost walked out halfway through. My gut was telling me that nothing
of real interest was going to happen in this movie. My gut was right.
Still I stayed. The most interesting thing I could find was Tilda Swinton's fine bones and swirling costumes. Was the scenery gorgeous? Well, I live in San Diego and I was not impressed.
Were the characters compelling? Not Adam and Eve in the Garden but the snake, aka Ralph Fiennes, had his moments. Yes the performance was bravura but for me it was de trop and at times I wished I could step into the frame and hit him on the head with a large hammer.
The nymphet sulked prettily in corners and had her moment in the sun (fully exposed like all of these actors). I honestly believe all the director cared about was watching people have sex and more sex.
After Eden had become a snake pit, a bad thing happened. The very thing we knew from the beginning would happen. Ho hum.
That critics could find this movie enthralling, suspenseful and amazing is a mystery to me. Maybe they just like watching people have sex.
Rock-star Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is recuperating on an Italian island
after throat surgery, with her film-maker lover (Mattias Schoenaerts)
for company. Then an ex of hers turns up, loud and boozy
record-producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes), with his nymphette daughter
(Dakota Johnson). Marianne can only speak in whispers, but Harry could
- and does - talk for England. The reunion rapidly turns from jolly
reminiscence to sullen silences and naked confrontation.
Emphasize the 'naked'. There are a lot of nude swimming scenes. Ralph Fiennes who, with or without his kit on, plays the whole movie in manic overdrive. Matthias and Dakota have lower-key roles and are easier to watch. Despite concert and studio flashbacks I never for a moment believed in Swinton as a rock goddess - she's meant to be a sort of female Bowie. Swinton, like a latter-day Katherine Hepburn, brings energy and a kind of dry mockery to most of her roles: admirable but not always likable.
This is a remake of a 1969 French movie, LA PISCINE, which starred Alain Delon in the Schoenaerts role. There are strong echoes too of the identically titled 2003 Charlotte Rampling picture SWIMMING POOL, which had a similar slow-burning intensity. A BIGGER SPLASH has a cast of attractive people playing unattractive mind-games in a picturesque setting. Clever but boring.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton may wander through A Bigger Splash naked (or nearly so), but it's director Luca Guadignino who's truly without clothes here. This is a genuine mess of a movie, boring as a bad dinner party for 7/8s of its length, nonsensical for the rest and exuding an irksome pretentiousness throughout. Worst, perhaps, is the way Guadignino cynically salts in occasional references to the Mediterranean migrant crisis in an attempt to add political meaning to this addled, indulgent trifle. By the picture's end, we're supposed to believe the character played by Matthias Schoenaerts has gotten away with murder. In fact, that achievement belongs to the director.
World famous singer Marianne Lane (Swinton), temporarily mute from a
recent throat operation, is enjoying a relaxing holiday with her doting
film-maker boyfriend Paul De Smedt (Schoenaerts) on a remote idyllic
Italian island. Much to their initial annoyance, Lane's manic music
producer and ex-boyfriend Harry Hawkes (Fiennes) turns up with his
newly discovered daughter Penelope (Johnson) to gate- crash the
A Bigger Splash is a character development masterclass by Guadagnino. Over the first hour, the film gives everything to build up the intricacies of each character's attributes so that every subsequent variation and elaboration feels exhilarating. This is a film about people and relationships; how different associations can sometimes coalesce yet at other times grate, how secrets and history must awkwardly co-exist with the fantasies of perfection.
Fiennes is simply superb. He absolutely nails Hawkes extrovert nature, perfectly mixing it with the selfish dark underbelly which success invariably requires. Swinton marvellously continues to build her rapidly emerging reputation with a multifaceted character that says less than a hundred words throughout the entire running time. Both Schoenaerts and Johnson are solid but are unluckily eclipsed by Fiennes and Swinton's sparkle. In fact, such is Fiennes utter dominance early on, there feels a distinct possibility he will overshadow not only the other actors, but the film itself. Fortunately, as time passes the rest of the cast get their chance in the sun and, to their credit, pull it back just before it becomes the Ralph Fiennes Show.
The friction between De Smedt and Hawkes is always at the forefront; the protective grounded boyfriend against the vociferous music producer ex. Hawkes tempts Lane to speak at the dinner table, De Smedt knocks him back, Hawkes dances to a track he produced for the Rolling Stones, De Smedt pulls Lane closer on the sofa. It's the subtle fragments of both loving and sexual tension which keep the flow of A Bigger Splash so thrilling.
When the plot eventually makes its move, sides are taken, suspicions are rife, relationships are both strained and solidified. Only then do you realise just how well the film has branded its characters into your hide, and how desperate you are to know the outcome.
Until the last half hour or so not much really happens in A Bigger Splash but you simply don't notice, such is the utter delight in watching a great cast develop complex characters with a wonderfully astute script.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There is some talent here. I don't know the director but Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts and Tilda Swinton are all talented actors. While Matthias wasn't at his best, Tilda Swinton was, even voiceless, remarkably well cast. Ralph Fienness was very good as well... at least his acting was. And now to the negative. Basically every single protagonist in this film is extremely annoying but by far the worst is Ralph Fiennes as Harry Hawkes. His acting was good but the character was written that way. Now, in a way this was how it was meant to be. His "friends", if you can call them that, were also annoyed by him. But why keep him around then? And what's the point of annoying the audience so much they want to leave the cinema? The behavior of all the other characters around him didn't make any sense. They were annoyed and didn't want him around and yet kept him and didn't say a word. Marianne Lane hates the guy, seems almost disgusted by him and yet let's him come so close physically. There were two reasons for me to stay to the end in this movie. I was hoping that Paul would kick Harry's ass, so I was waiting for that. And the second reason was that I wanted to see another movie afterwards so I might as well kill some time in the meanwhile. When I finally got what I was waiting for it was an awkward fight that was only mildly satisfying. At least after that Harry shut up, so that's a plus. What could have somewhat saved this movie is some good scenery shots and cinematography. Giving the setting of the movie that would seem obvious. While there were some good shots it was ultimately disappointing. Just like the rest of the movie.
A remake of Jacques Deray's 'La Piscine' (1969), 'A Bigger Splash' has
attracted some big names: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson
and Matthias Schoenaerts make it a star-spangled vehicle indeed.
Recuperating rock star Marianne Lane (Swinton) is on holiday with her lover Paul (Schoenaerts) when their peace and quiet is destroyed by that worst of all afflictions: the uninvited guest. In this case it's Harry Hawkes (Fiennes), Marianne's former producer and lover, who wants to show off his newly-discovered daughter Penelope (Johnson). As the quartet - joined for a time by two more women whom Harry takes it upon himself to invite - cavort under the Italian sun, conversations are held, secrets revealed and betrayals occur.
This is very much an actors' film, and Fiennes does a splendid job as the over-enthusiastic, noisy Harry; I wanted to punch him after about five minutes. Johnson does her best with the standard femme fatale role, and Schoenaerts is perfectly competent. Star of the show, however, is definitely Swinton, who has very few lines (her character is supposed to refrain from speaking after a throat operation) but as she's in most scenes is required to get Marianne's opinions across through facial expression, miming, and sheer force of personality, which she manages splendidly.
This is an engrossing film, with an interesting plot, good acting and lovely scenery (and not just of the countryside variety, either - all four leads get their kit off at some point, although I could have done with fewer such scenes from Mr Fiennes - he's in relatively good nick for a chap in his fifties, but things are starting to sag!) It's strange, though, that an Italian/French co-production is mainly in the English language!
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