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A Bigger Splash - review

Mar 3, 2016 Film & TV

You have never seen Ralph Fiennes cut loose the way he does in the latest collaboration between director Luca Guadagnino and Tilda Swinton. Swinton is as magnetic a presence in A Bigger Splash as she was in their last project, the sumptuous, thorny I Am Love. But Fiennes is on another planet. Watching his ageing, exuberant force-of-nature rock producer, Harry, dance to a Rolling Stones track while explaining, in hilarious detail, how it came to be recorded is a lesson in the power of first-class acting. The scene is worth the price of admission on its own.

It doesn’t need to be. There are certainly problems with this film; it’s too long for its substance, and its four central characters exist at very different points on the acting accomplishment spectrum. But if you enjoy intelligent, unpredictable film-making, there’s a lot here for you.

There are problems with this film, but if you enjoy intelligent, unpredictable film-making, there’s a lot here for you.

As the story opens, Swinton’s Marianne, a possibly retired rock star, is relaxing in the heat of an Italian summer with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts, blandly adequate). We follow them through several scenes during which they never speak a word: a silence which is clearly blissful, but which is also motivated, it soon emerges, by Marianne’s need to protect her voice.

So the first words spoken in the film come when Harry phones unexpectedly to announce a visit: the onset of a flood of verbiage. The tension between Harry’s bubbly babble and Marianne’s charged silence is expertly judged, and hints at deeper tensions between them. Meanwhile his young daughter (Dakota Johnson, well out of her depth) is making eyes at Paul. Working out where all this may go, while also feeling your way into the history underlying it, is a large part of the substantial pleasure of watching the film.

Which means that once you know the answers, most of A Bigger Splash’s power over you will be gone. It’s more fun-to-watch than unforgettable. But Fiennes you will not forget in a hurry.


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