A Bigger Splash 

 

Half

 

 

Luca Guadagnino’s remake adaptation of a story once told by Jacques Deray in his 1969 film La Piscine has a hard time in the credibility stakes.

 

The new film has been likened to the work of Claude Chabrol and Michelangelo Antonioni, as indeed was Deray’s film at the time. For this reviewer Guadagnino resembles more the Italian film-maker with its slow, amorphous and sometimes pointless direction in which it seems to be going. For a long time we are not quite sure what is really happening, what is going to happen or where will it all end. It concerns a quartet of lovers, the games they play and how they try to control their own and each others’ lives.

 

Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is a successfully iconic rock star who, while recovering from throat surgery goes to the Sicilian island of Pantelleria to convalesce, along with current lover, photographer Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). A phone-call from her ex-lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes) heralds his arrival on the island with a surprise for his hosts, a daughter, Penelope, of whose existence until recently he was unaware. The atmosphere is, to say the least, edgy. Marianne is at a disadvantage in not being able to speak because of her throat condition; Paul is suspicious of Harry being around Marianne again; the beautiful nymphet Penelope seems unimpressed by her father, but obviously taken with Paul. Meanwhile, the appalling Harry, a music producer who tries to convince everybody he’s still the same old rocker, is actually past his sell-by date and a pain in the butt to boot.

  

 Bigger Splash

Old flames: Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton re-visit past passions

 

In this setting with its sunny, torpid Italian climate there’s a lot of sunbathing and, as the film’s title acknowledges David Hockney’s famous picture, there’s much swimming to be done too, so a lot nudity and near nudity is called for. This only enhances the air of sexual tension as characters lie around and on top of each other baring their bodies along with their souls. It’s easy to empathise with Marianne and Paul and even with Penelope, but Harry is such a monster without, apparently, any saving graces.

 

This might be why the film exudes a real lack of credibility because who would be taken in by Harry’s appalling behaviour which is at the very least embarrassing and at most insulting. He’s on a nostalgia jag, recalling the old days and trying to get his companions to dance to his own tunes. As good as Fiennes is – he is as repellent as Harry as he was charming in The Grand Budapest Hotel – we are never going to warm to this terrible exhibitionist at all. Tilda Swinton presents another performance from her gallery of off-the-wall characters, Matthias Schoenaerts as Paul would probably rather be elsewhere, and Dakota Johnson does her Lolita bit as Penelope with surprising élan.

 

Visually the film is often stunning (courtesy of cinematographer Yorick Le Saux) but the plodding plot development and awkward aimlessness of the screenplay prevent it from being truly memorable. Instead A Bigger Splash appears to be going down the plug-hole very slowly…

 

MICHAEL DARVELL

 

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tilda Swinton, Aurore Clément, McMenamy Lily, Corrado Guzzanti, Elena Bucci.

                                                                                                                

Dir Luca Guadagnino, Pro Luca Guadagnino and Michael Costigan, Screenplay David Kajganich, based on a story by Alain Page for Jacques Deray’s 1969 film La Piscine, Ph Yorick Le Saux, Pro Des Maria Djurkovic, Ed Walter Fasano, Music Superviser Robin Urdang, Costumes Giulia Piersanti.

 

Frenesy Film Company/Cota Film etc-StudioCanal.

124 mins. Italy/France. 2015. Rel: 12 February 2016. Cert. 15.