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A Bigger Splash - DVD Review

A Bigger Splash

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

RALPH Fiennes delivers a performance to savour in Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash in a performance that does much to paper over the cracks of this flawed but consistently intriguing film.

As record producer Harry, the British actor is on scenery-chewing form, devouring all before him as the ex-lover of Tilda Swinton’s rocker Marianne – an attention-craving narcissist and hedonist who likes to hell-raise for the sake of it.

His arrival on the idyllic Italian island of Pantelleria, off the Sicilian coast, complete with daughter (Dakota Johnson) in tow marks the beginning of a testing period in the lives of Marianne and her current squeeze, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a would-be documentary film-maker, who have both retreated to the isle to recuperate.

For Marianne, it’s the chance to rest her voice following a crucial operation, while for Paul it’s the chance to gain some perspective after a failed suicide attempt. But while the tranquillity and anonymity afforded by the island offers the chance for some perspective, Harry’s arrival tosses a hand grenade into the works.

First and foremost, he wants to be reconciled with Marianne, which places a strain on his friendship with Paul, who in turn must fend off the advances of Harry’s daughter.

A Bigger Splash is actually a loose remake and homage to Jacques Deray’s 1969 psychological thriller La Piscine (The Swimming Pool), as well as a meditation on fame and the classic rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

Early on, Harry is seen being interviewed by Paul and alludes to The Rolling Stones and the notorious swimming pool incident involving the late Brian Jones in a haunting forbear of what is possibly to come.

And as tensions mount, it’s clear that it will only be a matter of time before things erupt. Guadagnino, for his part, keeps things simmering nicely, happily allowing Fiennes’ Harry to be the film’s volatile centre. A pool-side party sequence early on, in which Harry takes a trip down memory lane via Marianne’s vinyl collection, and then proceeds to dance madly, is a highlight.

His finale, too, succeeds in raising a wry smile of knowing appreciation at how the apparent allure of celebrity and all of its trappings [and vices] can blind even the most sensible person to its darkest secrets.

But for all there is to admire, there are fundamental flaws that prevent A Bigger Splash from achieving classic status. Just as he did with his last film, I Am Love, Guadagnino sometimes gets a little carried away with his juxtapositions, offering numerous shots of the Italian landscape and its nature to offset some of the more incendiary moments taking place on-screen. It lends the film a European art-house feel that more mainstream audiences may find frustrating.

But perhaps the biggest problem lies in the fact that the film offers no character to really genuinely like or root for, thereby creating an emotional void that ultimately leaves you feeling underwhelmed.

A Bigger Splash therefore works best as a curiosity piece: an intriguing pot-boiler of sexual tension enhanced by Fiennes’ monstrous performance. It’s well worth seeing even if it leaves you cold.

View photos from A Bigger Splash

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 5mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: June 27, 2016