A Bigger Splash tells the story of Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton), an ageing rock star taking a resting vacation on the remote Italian island Pantelleria with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a filmmaker. Their vacation is disrupted when Marriane’s larger-than-life ex Harry (Ralph Fiennes) arrives with his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson).
Watching A Bigger Splash is a little like watching a car crash in agonisingly slow motion. As the tensions rise and tempers are frayed, you see the action unfolding and there’s nothing you can do about it. Even though you want to look away you just can’t.
An interesting choice attributed to Swinton herself was that Marianne is recovering from an operation on her vocal folds. It means that her abundant acting abilities risk going to waste. This isn’t the case at all. Indeed, that she is able to command her scenes whilst not even speaking highlights her presence in front of a camera. Her frustration at not being able to shut Harry up is evident. This, mixed with Paul’s desire to not be drawn into arguments and Penelope’s apparent disinterest in just about everything, means Harry is able to be the centre of attention at all times, much to the bemusement of the three people whose lives he is engulfing.
It’s a tremendous performance from Fiennes. He is most certainly an annoying person to watch on screen, let along imagine being on holiday with. He’s a tragic man desperate to avoid the realisation that nobody cares anymore. We all know someone like Harry in our lives, but none of us like him. Unfortunately, whilst the performance is fantastic and it plays out beautifully, it doesn’t necessarily make for great cinema. Achieving a cinematic goal doesn’t justify it.
One thing this film shares with La Piscine, the 1969 French film on which this is based, is the gratuitous nudity. It didn’t really feel integral to the plot, and lacked any kind of eroticism that it may have been angling for, feeling instead to be overly sleazy.
The political setting didn’t really give any edge to the film either. Set amid a backdrop of illegal migrants landing on Pantelleria, it just felt like a shallow attempt to date the film without adding much to the plot. This could have been rectified if we’d seen the migrants sooner, but by the time they were first mentioned it felt like an irrelevant afterthought.
The film also feels about twenty minutes too long, with the action seeming to reach a climax only to drag on far beyond the point it held my attention. As with all car crashes, it’s not very enjoyable to watch. The elements are all there – great acting, beautiful scenery, fantastic plot development – it’s just that the overall effect doesn’t deliver on its component parts.
A Bigger Splash is out at cinemas now.