A sumptuous but strangely outdated adaptation of La Piscine, Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash is an enigma of jealousy and miscommunication.
L'Avventuraby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Based on Jacques Deray’s 1969 film La Piscine with Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, Luca Guadagnino’s first feature since I Am Love relocates this sultry tale of jealousy to Pantelleria, an Italian island off the Tunisian coast. The swimming pool remains centre stage, as lovers Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) bask naked in the sun – until, that is, one-time flame Harry (Ralph Fiennes) arrives with his adult daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in tow. And it’s a stadium for racing male rivals, each keen to make the biggest splash, and a stage for coquettish mating performances, as Pen dives and glides provocatively. But with Tilda Swinton barely speaking a word throughout A Bigger Splash – a rock star recovering after an operation on her vocal cords – Luca Guadagnino metamorphoses La Piscine into a treatise on communication, with Harry talking non-stop in a rush of impetuous energy while Penelope is a silent, confrontational observer, refusing to speak Italian while watching others around her flounder. She’s an odd character – the fly in the ointment. But as a teary-eyed Penelope boards her plane back to Rome, battered and bruised after her moody confrontations with adult life, sex and relationships, it’s not so much the characters’ ability to communicate, or lack thereof, that matters in A Bigger Splash as the guilty secret likely to tear the lovers’ idyll apart. Strangest of all though in this cosmos of rock’n’roll freedoms is the anachronistic mismatch between Guadagnino’s sensual style and La Piscine‘s extravagant story, and A Bigger Splash quickly unravels in the final reel. With occasional lapses into the operatic style of I Am Love but without the grand setting, Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash feels like a fish out of water. It features a daring performance from Ralph Fiennes and a disappointingly mute one from a still brilliant Tilda Swinton. But while there are flashes of life – such as the modernist shots of scaffolding and sequences of costumed poses and camera sweeps that recall the Antonioni of The Red Desert or L’Avventura, A Bigger Splash is a second-hand pastiche. More like a damp squib than a big splash.
A Bigger Splash is now showing at the London Film Festival