A Bigger Splash – a remake of the 1969 film La Piscine – is a psychodrama set on an island off the Sicilian coast, with the action centred on four characters playing poolside emotional chess. Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is a Bowie-esque rockstar recovering from a throat operation, on holiday with her filmmaker boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). Their retreat from the madness of Marianne’s world is interrupted by the appearance of Marianne’s former boyfriend and record producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes) who arrives unannounced with his newly discovered daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson).
The film is driven by the sexual tension between all four characters, with every pairing possible being in some way explored. The whole film drips with sensual energy: from the sun-drenched villa and the shots gorgeous Italian food, to the casual nakedness of each character and the central motif of the swimming pool. A Bigger Splash is a bit odd – mostly thanks to Fiennes’ bonkers turn as Harry – but in a really captivating way. It’s incredibly stylish, from the setting to the costumes, and the soundtrack helps to create the heady backdrop for the tensions between the characters to play out.
For me, three of the four leads were superb: Tilda Swinton is radiant and despite having an almost non-speaking role, she manages to capture the audience’s attention anytime she’s onscreen. Ralph Fiennes is brilliant, jumping around as the eccentric Englishman abroad, equally entertaining and ghastly; and Matthias Schoenaerts stands solid, reserved and brooding. I didn’t quite buy Dakota Johnson’s character: whilst the other three felt like real people Penelope was more of a fantasy – the beautiful, flirtatious, pouting young woman. By the end of the film her storyline’s arc lends the character more legitimacy, but for more than half of the movie her presence onscreen is grating.
Unfortunately the film slightly loses its pacing in the third act: the first two are punchy, but in the third the narrative does begin to drag. Having opened with such energy, the end of the film feels a bit deflated and disappointing. But despite this, A Bigger Splash is a lush exploration of sex and jealousy, and Fiennes’ performance as the insufferable Harry is not to be missed.
Image: Nicolas Genin; Wikimedia Commons