A Bigger Splash (2016)

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A colourful stab of energy and observation. A Bigger Splash has a bit of a personality crisis. At times it is incredibly controlled and stylish and at others it is loose and rambling. At first I struggled with the contrast but grew to enjoy it when I realised the aesthetic mismatch was intentional. There’s a Godardian sense of chaos within the real and the sudden jolts of subjective filmmaking – POV shots, jump cut reactions – are exciting. When your main characters are a rock star, filmmaker and record producer you expect a certain level of extravagance but director Luca Guadagnino is smart enough to offset it with some thematic nerve endings.

The performances are all grounded in a black hole of emotion and exert them in their own individual ways. Tilda Swinton, as the rock star on voice-rest due to a recent operation, is mostly mute – an inspired move which allows the planet’s most otherworldly star to make primary use of her face and body language. Ralph Fiennes gives one of his most riotous performances showcasing vulnerability and misjudged confidence in equal doses. Both Swinton and Fiennes are paired up with a younger companion, Matthias Schoenaerts for Swinton and Dakota Johnson for Fiennes. They are marginally less interesting than their older co-stars but remain fascinating. Johnson especially surprised me. She flexes muscles I haven’t seen from either her rom-com or Fifty Shades work. Despite her skimpy clothing and abundance of leering close-ups thrown in her direction, she proves to be much more than just a pretty face. In fact, her looks are little more than a smoke screen. There’s a soaking of sex-appeal across the board and loaded glances, bared flesh and quenched passions trigger an undercurrent of jealousy and competition between the quartet that becomes increasingly insidious as the film progresses. I didn’t see the third act coming but it’s clear there’s no other outcome for this story.

A Bigger Splash has a great sound too. The extended use of Harry Nilssons “Jump Into the Fire” inspired mixed emotions from me. I can never hear that song and think of anything but GoodFellas but it is utilized so well here and introduced at various, inspired points in the story that I might just be able to get over Guadagnino re-purposing a song already christened by cine-God Scorsese. Plus any film that makes you want to go out and buy an original copy of The Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescue LP must be up to all kinds of mischief. The only thing better? St. Vincent’s cover over the end credits. I haven’t stopped listening to it since.

I really dug this. It’s infectious and entertaining with performances to match. The film makes tonal leaps and character shifts with a crazed confidence which is something I always respond to and has a stylistic groove I, ultimately, got on board with. I’ve never seen La Piscine (the 1969 movie this one is based on) but more than anything A Bigger Splash made me want to finally see Guadagnino and Swinton’s previous collab I Am Love. Nice.

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