After the critically acclaimed I Am Love, director Luca Guadagnino brings to the screen another group drama riveting around the dynamics of love and desire in A Bigger Splash, remake of the 1969 La Piscine directed by Jacques Deray. With a star-studded cast featuring Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson and a great premise, the film, sadly, stumbles upon a shallow script which hardly makes the ‘big splash’.
After a throat operation, famous rock-star Marianne (Swinton) is recovering with boyfriend and filmmaker Paul (Schoenaerts) on the idyllic island of Pantelleria, Sicily. The bliss is interrupted by the arrival of ageing record-producer and former Marianne’ fling, Harry (Fiennes), who this time has brought a visitor: his daughter -or at least he believes she is – Penelope (Johnson). Harry’s boisterous presence seems to revive Marianne’s memories of her creative years. However, the hot Sicilian sun stirs other desires, so that we have a double triangle with Harry, who is still after Marianne after ‘giving’ her to friend Paul, and Penelope, who is set on seducing Paul whatever it takes. However, this is far from a comedy romance as the amorous pursuits soon lead to a death in the pool. (If you’ve seen La Piscine you’ll have an idea as to who that might be, if not we’ll leave you to find out yourself).
The film employs a mixture of hand-held, zooming in and more dynamic shots which comes as a refreshing breath to the strain of Sorrentino-copycats that have since flourished on the Italian film scene. The Sicilian landscape is for the most part ablaze, with the volcanic island of Pantelleria shining in its beauty – this changes as soon as the events take a more sinister turn. Still, the film struggles to push through the two hours of running time. There are also numerous instances where the film veers off the main storyline to point at other issues but never quite develops them further: the migrant crises in Southern Italy is briefly mentioned towards the end of the film as the death is blamed on the migrants, but the drama of four, white-privileged artists feels completely removed from that kind of storyline. Same goes for the stereotypical Carabinieri detective who appears twice in the film, once at the beginning and then towards the end, and yet ends up being the person that closes the case – though he could not be further from the truth, as he, being a fan of Marianne, does not investigate her and her party.
The script feels both unbalanced and goofy: after Harry’s arrival to break up the peace there is hardly any major action until, with no apparent development before that, Paul suddenly feels like shagging Harry’s daughter, Pamela (which we discover being underage, but again, this has no repercussions whatsoever). The film is also interspersed with random flashbacks which neither add to the story nor serve a purpose – since we already knew all the characters’ backstories from their dialogues. Possibly the only great strength of the film is Ralph Fiennes’ manic performance as Harry, that manages to spur the drama here and there with his coke-fuelled, Italian food connoisseur, mostly naked, boisterous presence on screen.
A Bigger Splash is playing at the BFI London Film festival and will be in general release from 26th November 2015.