“The new Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) film, A Bigger Splash, takes place on a sun-blanketed Mediterranean isle somewhere between Sicily and Tunisia. For Marianne (Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Only Lovers Left Alive, I Am Love) and Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts, Far From the Madding Crowd, Suite Française, Rust and Bone), the place’s very own Adam and Eve, it’s as close to paradise as they can get.
Marianne is a David Bowie-esque international rock star who’s taking time out to recuperate from a throat ailment that’s left her unable to speak. Paul is her filmmaker boyfriend and a recovering alcoholic, also in need of a break from reality. The real world is a three-hour flight away: here, they can swim, sunbathe, rub each other in therapeutic mud, and make love to their hearts’ content. It’s positively Edenic. Enter, right on cue, the forbidden fruit.
One morning, Marianne’s former lover and record producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Invisible Woman, The Reader) turns up at the airport with Penelope (Dakota Johnson) on his arm. This attractive young woman isn’t his new squeeze, but a recently discovered daughter from a previous fling. The purpose of Harry’s visit isn’t clear at first—but it stirs up passions old and new, and Marianne and Paul’s languorous duet becomes a free-jazz jamming session of intrigue, jealousy and passion.
The casting is immaculate. Marianne’s throat condition means she can’t say much, which Swinton brilliantly turns to her advantage—she puts over entire monologues in glares and glances, often just sitting there and more or less glowering her thoughts directly at the audience. Schoenaerts plays Paul with the same deeply sublimated discomfort that made his Gabriel Oak in last year’s Far From The Madding Crowd so compelling, while Dakota Johnson brings 50 shades of acid-tipped flirtatiousness to Penelope.
Then there’s Fiennes, who is simply magnificent as Harry, a rapturous alpha-prat who swans around with his linen shirts unbuttoned to the navel, recounts past recording-studio war stories ad nauseum and elevates dad-dancing to art. His performance is stand-up-and-cheer brilliant, and draws out a tragic desperation from this hilarious figure with total commitment and needle-accurate technique.
But Guadagnino keeps everything in balance—and Harry’s own multifarious issues are only part of a complex and finely shaded bigger picture, which includes an influx of Tunisian refugees that provides a sly political context, and snakes that slither symbolically out of the bushes. It’s a tempting feast for the eyes and mind alike, with an aftertaste that lingers like the whip-crack sting of grappa on the tongue.” (Robbie Collin, The Daily Telegraph)
“Between its gorgeous cast, its beautiful clothes and its dazzling setting, A Bigger Splash is pure pleasure to look at.” (Ann Hornaday, Washington Post)
“A Bigger Splash has neither a clear center nor a clear moral, and it’s all the better for it. This is a film about behavior, not plot—and how people are ruled by emotion, and not logic.” (David Ehrlich, indieWIRE)
“As with I Am Love, Guadagnino has put together something utterly distinctive here, a cocktail of intense emotions, transcendent surroundings and unexpected detours. A real pleasure.” (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)