A Bigger Splash is like a sultry film noir, but instead of taking place in the city shadows, it unfolds under the gentle golden light of sunny southern Italy. Directed by Luca Guadagnino (famed for I Am Love) and based on the 1969 New Wave French classic La Piscine, it slowly builds from a languid romance into a psychological thriller that is both compelling and unnerving.
Here are four main reasons to watch this film:
1. Tilda Swinton’s fabulous wardrobe, created by Raf Simons when he was still at Dior, is perfect for gliding through a Mediterranean summer. My favorite outfit was a sweeping white ankle-length skirt and black, low-back, 3/4-sleeve tee shirt paired with silver mirrored sunglasses, a wide brimmed straw hat and flat leather sandals.
2. The sexual tension that oozes in almost every scene. It both titillates and makes you uneasy. The quiet, lazy ennui as the characters lay by the pool, trade quips over cocktails, or wander throughout the town is interlaced with a sense of foreboding. You just know something sexy is going to happen and also something bad.
3. The cinematography is superb. Shadows on the hills from clouds moving over the landscape, a close up of a fish being prepared for a meal, a record spinning on a turntable, the camera lingering over sunbathing bodies—the overall feel is painterly and beautiful to watch.
4. The performances, of course! Swinton as a legendary rock star Marianne Lane, who is recovering from a vocal chord surgery with her boyfriend on the sleepy Italian island of Pantelleria. Matthias Schoenaerts as Marianne’s hunky, sensitive filmmaker boyfriend Paul, who is nursing her back to health. Ralph Fiennes as manic record producer Harry, who also happens to be Marianne’s ex-boyfriend. Dakota Johnson as Harry’s alleged teenage daughter Penelope—a Lolita-esque nymphet whose skimpy clothing matches her barely-there morals. In some ways, Johnson is far naughtier here than she was in 50 Shades of Grey.
Marianne and Paul are having a sexy, lazy getaway—picnics on the beach, long drives in the jeep, naked massages by the pool, midnight swims, and plenty of love making—when Harry shows up unannounced with Penelope, (who he claims he just found out was his daughter). As the two intrude into Marianne and Paul’s idyllic getaway, old emotions and passions arise, and jealousy and rage ensue—all laced with a hazy overtone of calm relaxation (after all, they’re on vacation!). But it’s a placid pool on the surface with dangerous currents underneath.
At first, Paul puts up with Harry’s brash behavior. An extrovert who monopolizes every conversation, he also pours endless drinks although he knows Paul is a recovering alcoholic. In one of the best scenes in the film, Harry tries to impress the group with tales of his old days working on Rolling Stones album as he frenetically dances and sings along to their song “Emotional Rescue” (the song’s title is fitting).
Marianne, via whispers, gestures, and expressions tries to balance all the delicate egos. But eventually, Paul tires of Harry’s not-so-hidden agenda of winning Marianne back. Out of jealousy or sheer loss of will, he seemingly succumbs to the unwavering sexual advances lavished upon him by the not-so-innocent Penelope. (One starts to wonder if perhaps she was brought along by Harry for that very reason.)
I won’t tell you what happens next, but let’s just say that the title of the film finally comes into play as the characters’ emotions come to a head.
Catch A Bigger Splash in a theater near you on May 4.