I have always complained about the fact I sometimes obsess over a film so much that the actual feature is never able to compare to my ideal conception of it. It just makes me miserable and I think about it over and over again. Well, for once, this didn’t actually happen with A Bigger Splash, the new film directed by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, starring Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson.
A Bigger Splash, a loose remake of the 1969 French erotic movie La Piscine, tells the story of Marianne Lane, a rock star, and her filmmaker boyfriend, Paul, who see their idyllic holidays on a remote Italian island interrupted by the unexpected visit of Harry, Marianne’s ex-boyfriend, and his mysterious daughter, Penelope.
The most striking element of Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash is its ability to create a feeling of claustrophobia in his characters, overcome by their own desire and violence. The island in which they seem to be trapped transforms itself into a prison from which they cannot escape. What I found remarkable about the film is the question of communication, or rather incommunication: Marianne is recovering from throat surgery and can barely speak, an issue that added to the lack of communication between the other characters, creates a stifling atmosphere and a hidden tension that will eventually explode. The jealousy, violence and desire and not verbalized, but are expressed through painful details.
And let’s not forget about my favorite element of the film: Tilda Swinton. I have known myself for quite a few years now and I can already see myself obsessing over her… and I really mean it. Swinton is everything an actress can aspire to be: she transforms herself into her character, she becomes Marianne, this complex figure, dangerous and vulnerable, quiet and explosive. I personally think that such a performance in an American film would have been nominated for an Academy Award (at least!), and it shocked me to read she wasn’t even nominated at the Venice Film Festival. I haven’t seen the other performances, but I can recognize perfection when I see it: Marianne is speechless, and Tilda leaves us speechless.
As I say in every single review, I love complex characters and therefore finding four of them in a film, so perfectly captured and played (Harry, Ralph Fiennes’ character, is a person I have just loved to hate), is like a dream come true. The film is entirely based on the characters, with the way they interact with each other and with the environment. So many things could have gone wrong with such a risky choice, and yet, Guadagnino just proves one more time why he is one of the most respected European directors of our time, after his critically acclaimed I Am Love. I thought I would never say this, but Dakota Johnson can actually act: her dark Lolita character is one of the main elements that make this film haunt its audience.
The film captures the breathtaking landscape of Pantelleria with a magnificent photography by Yorick Le Saux that, combined with a careful use of close-ups and detail and a quick editing, give deeper meaning to the film. As a matter of fact, the visual style of A Bigger Splash differentiates it from simple filmed theatre, and transforms it into a visual medium, into the basics of cinema and visual storytelling.
As for what I personally disliked, the climax of the film is rushed, or perhaps it arrives too late, what I’m sure of is that it either releases most of the tension when it should be stronger, more violent or, if what the screenwriter intended was to create a new sense of danger, it is not strong enough (trying my best not to make any spoilers because I really want you to see the film).
The film made its world premiere at the 72nd Venice Film Festival, were it was received with mixed review. In my case, there are no mixed feelings: this is, without a doubt, one of the best films I have watched so far this year, and probably one of my favorite films of the past few years. Obsessing over this film before its US release was totally and absolutely worth it.