Review: A Bigger Splash
PLOT: A rock star (Tilda Swinton) recovering from an operation finds her idyllic holiday with her documentarian lover (Matthias Schoenaerts) disturbed by the arrival of another former lover – a brash rock producer (Ralph Fiennes) with his daughter (Dakota Johnson) in tow.
REVIEW: One of the casualties of cinema culture over the last decade or so has been the increasing marginalization of European art-house fare. It seems the only ones that ever come out anymore have to boast big stars in order to be recognized, a sharp contrast to how in the sixties, the time of the French new wave and Italian auteurs like Michelangelo Antonioni, each new movie was met with some form an anticipation.
However, it could also be said that the problem is that too many of the recent crop of Euro auteurs are busy looking back or caught-up in nostalgia, such as was (arguably) the case with Paolo Sorrentino’s YOUTH. In its own way, A BIGGER SPLASH is also enamored with the past, being shot in a style evocative of Antonioni, while actually serving as a quasi-remake of the Jacques Deray film, LA PISCINE.
Like director Luca Guadagnino’s last film, the over-praised I AM LOVE, A BIGGER SPLASH is elegant, gorgeous, and also incredibly vacuous. It’s classic art-house pastiche, as we watch wealthy celebs come to terms with their affairs and fame, another way it feels almost like YOUTH take two. Granted, the actors are incredible, but there’s something so hollow about Guadagnino’s work that makes him hard to really appreciate, even though he clearly has a dazzling technique. It’s just the content that needs work.
Tilda Swinton is arguably his muse, and once again she gets a tailor-made part as a Bowie-like rock icon. Intriguingly, she’s not able to speak for almost the entire film, forcing Swinton to give a performance almost completely in pantomime. Guadagnino really pushes her to the limit every time; with her having done I AM LOVE entirely in Italian (with a Russian accent) and now being robbed of her iconic voice completely. She’s good here, but it still feels like Guadagnino is casting her for a larger-than-life persona more than anything else and she rarely gets to be vulnerable in a way that feels real.
By contrast, Matthias Schoenaerts, in the part originally played by Alain Delon, is low-key as Swinton’s object of desire, a documentarian newly on-the-wagon and recovering from a suicide attempt. Dakota Johnson plays his female doppelganger, a young woman using her sexuality to push some boundaries, but she feels a little too mature for the part, which calls for a Lolita-esque figure.
A BIGGER SPLASH would be something easily written-off as window-dressing were it not one Ralph Fiennes volcanic performance as Swinton’s producer/former lover. A boozing, impish reprobate, he’s so overwhelming that everyone else almost becomes scenery – including Swinton – although this is probably the point. Fiennes is a huge presence here and he chews the scenery with aplomb, particularly during a moment where he does a (spot-on) Mick Jagger impersonation as he dances to “Emotional Rescue.” He’s out-of-control but you can’t take your eyes off him.
In the end, I respect Guadagnino’s craft, but his movies keep me at an arm’s length. He’s so stylish, but something is lost in his tricks and gimmicks. A BIGER SPLASH is dynamic enough that it’s worth watching (Fiennes alone almost makes it a must-see) but as in I AM LOVE, it’s not quite as good as it thinks it is.