A Bigger Splash is one of those films where the primary interest is in exploring mood, atmosphere, and style before anything else. This is a movie about textures, surfaces, and bodies, and how people give off vibes (positive or negative) just by occupying the same space as others, without having to say much at all. In fact, the absolutely mesmerizing Tilda Swinton turns in a nearly wordless performance as a laryngitis afflicted rock star that is hiding away with her hunky photographer/filmmaker boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts) off the gorgeous coast of Italy, looking to escape the madness of her exhausting profession. But then, coming on like a gale force hurricane, a rowdy and rather obscene friend from the past (the incredible Ralph Fiennes) shows up looking for a place to crash with his sexy daughter (Dakota Johnson).
What all goes down is less important from a plot stand point and more interesting and involving on an aesthetic level; while I didn’t see the darkly funny final scene coming whatsoever, I found the script by David Kajganich to move in surprisingly expected fashion, never truly offering up any major surprises, but remaining fully engaging all the same. All of the performances are extra delicious, with Fiennes portraying one of the most obnoxious cinematic creations that I’ve come across in a while, while Swinton loses herself, yet again, in another transformative performance that takes on a variety of interesting angles due to her uniqueness as a human being; this is her ode to David Bowie. Schoenarets and Johnson both make for sexy eye-candy, while it’s interesting to note just how many individual shots linger on exposed flesh; there’s an earthy, sensual quality to the film that feels almost tangible, with an open sense of sexuality that was refreshing.
So what it might lack in originality from a story stand point, the director, Luca Guadagnino, makes up for when it comes to his high sense of style. This is a work that’s completely aware of the fact that it’s a “movie-movie,” which allows it some creative freedoms not normally seen. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie in recent memory that willfully breaks the 180 degree rule as often as A Bigger Splash does, while it was interesting to note how Guadagnino and his exceptional cinematographer Yorick Le Saux (The Clouds of Sils Maria, Only Lovers Left Alive, Swimming Pool) placed the actors directly in the middle of the frame, often looking straight into the camera, thus providing a sense of heightened artificiality that’s bracing to observe and tonally adventurous.
Guadagnino’s previous film, I Am Love, was another collaboration with Swinton, and while I preferred that effort to A Bigger Splash, his newest feels like a logical extension, as it’s yet another film with a dreamy and seductive atmosphere that feels as if it’s been painted in vivid brushstrokes. Kajganich’s script also revels in black comedy, and the actors are all up the task, playing characters that move to the beat of their own drums, never fully understanding anyone else but themselves, which results in a mildly detached feeling while observing all of the action, which has the potential for violence and suspense. The film is based on the 1969 movie La Piscine, and derives its title from the famous David Hockney painting from 1967. A Bigger Splash is now available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and various streaming platforms.
Review by Nick Clement