Ralph Fiennes shines in this scorching and deceptive drama
Welcome to the worst possible holiday in the most beautiful place imaginable. Marianne (Tilda Swinton), a Bowie-esque rockstar, is enjoying mute recovery from throat surgery with her handsome boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts) on a beautiful Italian island. Their companionable silence is shattered by the noisy arrival of an old flame, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), and his newly discovered daughter (Dakota Johnson), who’ve decided to spice up Marianne’s holiday by being extravagantly dreadful.
Initially it seems that Luca Guadagnino’s film, a remake of a 1969 drama called La Piscine, is going to be a larky comedy in which everyone shags everyone else, but there are darker things under the surface here and they slowly bubble to the surface as time draws on, secrets spill and fuses shorten. Guadagnino builds the mood elegantly, his peacefully isolated island coming to seem more a prison. And it’s all terribly sexy, and not because everyone at one time or another gets their kit off. Meals are devoured like foreplay and flirty glances snuck over the top of sunglasses. The tension, both sexual and emotional, builds until it’s clear something terrible has to happen.
Fiennes wrestles the whole thing from a cast of considerable strength. He makes Harry a horribly magnetic creature, a man so determined to be the life of every party that his hedonism has become noisily boring, a pantomime of the same tricks and anecdotes that he’s been dining out on for years. You wouldn’t like to be stuck in a room with him but it’s darkly fascinating to watch others endure it. If this had been released late last year Fiennes would be a shoe-in for award nominations; depending on how the rest of 2016 goes, he still might be next year.
A Bigger Splash gets a bit damp in its final half hour, when the something bad we’ve been promised finally occurs and in becoming more of standard thriller it becomes oddly less thrilling. Yet maybe that’s what the film needs, a cold shock of wet reality after all that sizzling tension.
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Release date: 12 Feb, 2016