Francesca Rudkin is an entertainment reviewer for NZ Herald.

Movie review: A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash. Photo / Jack English
A Bigger Splash. Photo / Jack English

Ralph Fiennes couldn't make a bigger splash if he tried, rampaging through director Luca Guadagnino's (I Am Love) relationship drama, full of colourful yarns and reckless whims and desires.

It's a flamboyant and hilarious performance, like Fiennes' short but brilliant role in the Coen Brothers' Hail, Caesar! and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, reminding us there's more to him than the uptight Brit of recent James Bond films.

A remake of Jacques Deray's cult 1969 film La Piscine, A Bigger Splash is set on the sun-drenched, volcanic island of Pantelleria, somewhere between Sicily and Tunisia. Marianne Lane (Swinton) is a world famous Bowie-esque rock star recuperating from throat surgery out of the public eye, along with her film-maker boyfriend and recovering alcoholic Paul De Smedt (Schoenaerts).

Marianne and Paul's life is simple and idyllic - in a rich and famous kind of way. They sunbathe naked and have sex in the pool, visit a local lake where they smear each other with therapeutic mud, and eat simple, fresh food.

This peaceful Garden of Eden existence comes to a halt when Marianne's former boyfriend and record producer Harry Hawkes (Fiennes) gatecrashes their holiday, bringing with him a flirtatious Lolita-like teenager, his long lost daughter, Penny (Johnson).

New to fatherhood, Harry's father-daughter interactions are borderline inappropriate. This is something Marianne tries to address with her old friend, but Harry is busy entertaining the locals, stripping off, and re-telling stories of how many of the great albums of all time were made thanks to him.

He's also more interested in undermining Paul and Marianne's relationship and reclaiming his old flame.

Much as he did in I Am Love, Guadagnino's film is filled with characters making extremely emotional decisions based on sexual desire. A Bigger Splash is more intellectual than emotional. Guadagnino's observational tone means we watch the tensions slowly rise as the characters approach their inevitable breaking points without getting caught up in the emotion of their entanglements.

Regular collaborator Swinton is simply superb as Marianne - that she can't speak due to her throat ailment works in her favour.

Using body language and facial expressions, Swinton's performance is master class.

Schoenaerts is nicely cast as Paul but, up against an irrepressible Fiennes, doesn't get the chance to put in a Rust and Bone or Bullhead-type powerhouse show.

Johnson is exceptionally good as a messed-up, acerbic teen trying to play an adult's game. And let's not forget the fifth character on show; the timeless, sun-kissed island of Pantelleria - it's as dreamy to look at as Marianne's immaculate wardrobe.

Movie: A Bigger Splash
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Running Time: 124 mins
Rating: R16 (Sex scenes, violence, drug use, offensive language, nudity)
Verdict: Worth seeing just for Ralph Fiennes' exuberant performance.

- TimeOut

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