Any movie that opens by showing its leading actors matter-of-factly lying naked by a pool is almost certainly European. In fact, A Bigger Splash is the most European movie I’ve ever seen in the English language—which I mean as a complete compliment. I was swept away by this sensual, provocative, and unpredictable tale of four people whose lives intersect on Italy’s volcanic island Pantelleria.
Tilda Swinton plays a glamorous rock star who has come here with her companion (Matthias Schoenaerts) to unwind while she recovers from throat surgery. Their idyllic vacation is disrupted by the arrival of an old friend (and her onetime lover), a bombastic rock ‘n’ roll record producer played with unprecedented gusto by Ralph Fiennes. He is a force of nature—dare I call him volcanic?—who has brought with him a nubile young woman (Dakota Johnson) he has just recently met, who happens to be his daughter. Needless to say, sparks fly in all directions.
A Bigger Splash beckons us into its isolated world which is populated by four distinctly different characters. Director Luca Guadagnino paints a highly sexualized portrait of these larger-than-life personalities against the starkly beautiful backdrop of Pantelleria. He has worked with Swinton before, most notably on I Am Love, and they clearly have a simpatico which now extends to the rest of the talented cast.
The film is a remake of Jacques Deray’s La Piscine (1969), which the director adapted with Jean-Claude Carrière from Alain Page’s novel. It starred Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, who were ex-lovers in real life. Fortunately, the story is not linked to any time period and works splendidly in this remake, scripted by David Kajganich.
A Bigger Splash is a richly satisfying film with an unforgettable performance by Ralph Fiennes. As it happens, he is just one of the many reasons to see the picture.