London Film Festival Review: Luca Guadagnino's 'A Bigger Splash'
by Amanda Keats
October 13, 2015
There are two things we see straight away in A Bigger Splash: Tilda Swinton, naked and sunbathing, and her character Marianne then having sex in the pool with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). No words are spoken as we silently follow the pair from their villa to the beach and when the first notable sound is heard, a cellphone, it's an assault on the senses. This opening immediately sets the tone for this sexually-charged and sun-kissed movie, from Italian director Luca Guadagnino, that does not hide from both the raw ugliness and beauty of relationships so interwoven they can quickly shift from great to toxic.
Tilda Swinton, who leads this unlikely foursome, is one of the greatest actresses we have working today. Take away her ability to speak – as they have done here in this film – and she only proves that all the more by conveying so very much whilst saying so very little. Marianne is relaxing in her villa with Paul after throat surgery that requires her to keep completely silent. So when her very loud and un-silent former flame and current friend (Ralph Fiennes) arrives with his newly discovered daughter (Dakota Johnson), the difference between noise and silence suddenly becomes all the more telling.
The dialogue and silence are equally important, with the silence often saying more than the dialogue ever could. A gesture, a glance, one of the many moments of nudity – these things all require no words to tell the audience something, and I heard them all loud and clear. This is, after all, a movie that is pulsing with sexual tension and riddled with baggage from the shared history three of these four have with each other. Just as you think you understand where they're all coming from, a clever flashback is introduced that shows you just how different some of them used to be, making their current behavior all the more startling.
These shifts in personality are completely believable, thanks to the impressive cast who each bring their own unique charm to their respective characters. The different dynamics that exist or develop between each possible partnership, especially, make for riveting viewing. Every one of them knows what buttons to push and they do, as often as they can in order to get the reaction they want.
Despite the constant tension, A Bigger Splash lures you in with its beautiful Mediterranean charm and stunning backdrops. Even a trip to the grocery store seems exciting and that's not an easy thing to pull off! The cinematography really captures the appeal of the wider shots and then goes in for close-ups to remind you how much of an uncomfortable time you're having before you have the opportunity to forget.
And then it all goes wrong.
The tension and drama more than sustains the plot but then, just as the movie seems to be approaching a conclusion of some sort, it throws in a whole new plotline and another half an hour of story that just doesn't seem warranted. The performances are all still great – the actors haven't changed – but their arcs suddenly make no sense. New tangents are introduced that don't have time to be properly developed. Reactions that, up until this point, were perfectly plausible suddenly seem ridiculous. The nudity stops being sexually charged and just seems silly. The arguments become tiresome. Ultimately, as soon as the shift happens, the movie becomes the unwelcome guest Fiennes' character has been throughout the movie and you just lose interest and want it to go away. If only it had known when to leave and not to overstay its welcome.
Amanda's London 2015 Rating: 6 out of 10
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