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2015 London Film Festival Review: A Bigger Splash

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Ralph Fiennes can really swivel those hips. The camera in A Bigger Splash is obsessed with the way Fiennes moves his (often naked, clickbaiters) body. Following on from his last non-documentary outing I Am Love, director Luca Guadagnino takes a story from the 1969 French film La Piscine and brings it to life in modern Italy, with the help of Tilda Swinton. Swinton plays rock star Marianne Lane – a kind of Bowie/Chrissie Hynde hybrid with the dressing room habits of Courtney Love. A cliché she may be, but there’s something fascinating about Lane’s skin, wardrobe and inability to speak due to a throat operation that immediately draws viewers in. Matthew Schoenaerts, currently ubiquitous in European cinema, plays her younger, damaged photographer boyfriend. The pair are holidaying away from the media on an Italian island of no fixed identity. When Swinton’s ex-manager (and ex-lover) Harry Hawkes (an outstanding Ralph Fiennes) manages to locate them, they are forced to pick up Harry and his beautiful bleached-blonde ‘daughter’ Pen (Dakota Johnson) from the airport.  From this opening, A Bigger Splash comprises a series of set-pieces featuring changing combinations of these four leads. The film pieces together their history and unravels their present, with funny and distasteful results.

I took from A Bigger Splash a new-found appreciation for Fiennes’ comedic ability. I have never watched Fiennes lap up a character like Harry before. This walking-talking  rock producer not unlike the Duracell energy bunny irritates the cast and the audience alike, and yet his vitality can’t help but force a smile upon the face of both. His sexual, almost romantic scenes with femme fatale Pen are also a difficult watch – as they should be – which counterbalances the tender kinship between Harry and Marianne.

A Bigger Splash could itself be an irritating experience. The tropes are all there: rich successful people with first world problems sloughing off their issues just to create new ones in a picturesque setting. It is testament to Guadagnino that he directs his leads warmly and holds interest. The sumptuous setting and allusion to David Hockney’s painting of the same name are lovingly crafted, the blue pool stepping from the canvas to the screen to become a critical reference point.

But what is A Bigger Splash about? Who knows. Wikipedia calls the film ‘an erotic black comedy thriller‘ – which isn’t exactly a genre, illustrating that the film suffers from trying to appeal too widely. It isn’t particularly erotic either, where the frequent nakedness (of all four leads) is only mildly titillating. A Bigger Splash is not a thriller, as viewers are never as invested in the darker moments as the lighter ones. Guadagnino seems to treat serious crime and misdemeanour as something to laugh about. A Bigger Splash‘s main selling point is how is amusing it is, as a high-brow farce about human connection.

Extremely enjoyable and worth a watch for Fiennes’ alone, it really doesn’t matter that A Bigger Splash lacks any kind of point.

A Bigger Splash will be released in the UK on 12 February 2016 and on 13 May 2016 in the US .

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