Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s follow up to his 2010 melodrama masterpiece ‘I Am Love’, is a sun-drenched erotic thriller and remake of Jacques Derays’ psychological 1969 ‘La Piscine’ (The Swimming Pool).
A Bigger Splash is a gourmet of sexual tension and nihilistic jealously, that all revolves around people sensually diving into and dying in sun-kissed pools. It shares the enigmatic title and lyricism of David Hockney’s pop-art painting, which is used almost as a minimalist template to which Guadagnito paints his own layers on top.
Tilda Swinton plays a Bowie-esque worldrockstar named Marianne, who has gone to ground after losing her voice from an operation on her vocal chords, leaving her speechless. Despite hardly having any lines or saying anything, Swinton uses this to her advantage, delivering entire monologues through glares and expressions, which the leaves the audience understanding Marianne emotions on deeper level than if she were to speak.
Along with her recovering alcoholic filmmaker boyfriend Paul, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, they go on a vacation on the remote island of Pantelleria, where they intend to spend the next couple of weeks escaping reality and living in their own personal paradise.
Their vacation however is interrupted by an old lover and former record producer Harry, played by the magnificent Ralph Fiennes. Harry is the sort of impulsive, obnoxious, exhausted hell-raiser; manic-depressive (without the depression part) who acts firsts and thinks later, who gets caught up in the momentum of life and causes the ‘bigger splash’.
Harry and his Lolita-like daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), who throughout the film we are obliged to question if they are really related, with sexual glares and the possibility of adding incest to this already emotionally unsettling film, arrive in Pantelleria, to cause and hatch their planned chaos.
The film revolves around these four brilliantly casted characters tearing and testing each other to the point of insanity. It is the filmmakers intention to stir things up, test the waters and have a playful yet damaging experiment on human psychology, an intelligent play on Big Brother, however instead of being stuck in a room with CCTV, the setting is a glamorous villa and we are observing beyond the fourth wall through an Italian cinematic filter.
Guadagnino use of nudity is generous and very similar to that of Gaspar Noe’s recent endeavour ‘Love’, with both female and male gazes covered, he plays into the new aesthetic trend of sleek nudity and natural beauty.
The film progresses with Harry closing in on Marianne, by playing on their shared nostalgia of recording sessions and passionate/violent fights. Simultaneously while this is going on, Paul spends most of his time caught in the forbidden gaze of young Penelope.
With this swinger foursome swap, Guadagnino pushes all the characters to their full potential, unconcerned by their fate; you become more enwrapped in the voyeuristic pursuit to see how far and for how long this can continue.
Without giving too much away the final scene pulls out a surprising contextual trick, where we are told that including the death in the swimming pool, seven Tunisian immigrants drowned on the same day. Unconvinced that this was a conscious decision by the filmmaker, I can’t help but dig deeper into the films purpose, spending the entirety of the film focused on Gatsby-inspired problems of white privileged holidaymakers, we forget about the bigger problems surrounding the Sicilian coastline.
Maybe making a bigger statement about the audience than that of the dalliance characters.