Maybe you saw I Am Love, the 2010 romantic tragedy that introduced many Americans to the Sicilian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino. His follow-up feature is A Bigger Splash, a remake of Jacques Deray’s 1969 thriller La piscine, which I must admit I haven’t seen. If you don’t know Guadagnino, this movie is a smoother and more assured piece than I Am Love, giving you the same mix of operatic romance and Tilda Swinton wearing mortally stylish costumes, not to mention full-frontal nudity by her and all the other major players in this cast, which makes it worth a look.
Swinton plays Marianne Lane, a rock star forced by vocal surgery to cut short her world tour, so she takes a very quiet vacation at her home on the Italian island of Pantelleria with her documentarian boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). The tranquility is shattered by the arrival of Marianne’s music producer ex Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and Penny (Dakota Johnson), his 22-year-old daughter whom they initially mistake for his latest girlfriend. Harry and Penny sure act more like a couple than a parent and child, but Harry is out to steal Marianne back while Penny wants to have sex with Paul, so the situation is primed to explode.
Swinton projects her customary authority even in a part where she mostly can’t speak, but Fiennes dominates the proceedings as a guy whose need to be the life of the party makes him fairly oppressive. Harry invites along guests of his own and brings in bottles of wine despite knowing that Paul is a recovering alcoholic. He natters on about his work with the Rolling Stones and dances ecstatically in his underwear to “Moon Is Up.” The psychodrama plays out in the wide-open, sun-drenched spaces of Marianne’s house, as well as against the island’s spectacular natural scenery. Guadagnino does well by the Polanski-like suffocating atmosphere here and especially with the late-night fight in a swimming pool that leaves someone at the bottom.
What I particularly like is the subplot involving Italy’s troubles with the recent wave of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, which keep intruding on the problems of these sheltered white people via news reports and a face-to-face encounter that Paul and Penny have while looking for a volcanic lake. Eventually, this intersects with the main plot in such a way that allows our main characters to extricate themselves in a way that’s unavailable to the black and brown people around them who are fleeing wars and tyranny. Looked at this way, A Bigger Splash is cutting social satire in a manner familiar from decades of Italian cinema. The sexiness and star power here help it all go down easily.
[box_info]A Bigger Splash
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Tilda Swinton. Directed by Luca Guadagnino. Written by David Kajganich, based on Jean-Claude Carrière and Jacques Deray’s script. Rated R.[/box_info]