Four Sexually Charged Characters Make ‘A Bigger Splash’

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.

Ralph Fiennes-Dakota Johnson-ABS-680

Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

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.

Ralph Fiennes-Tilda Swinton-ABS

(Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024