A Bigger Splash

(2015) *** R
125 min. Fox Searchlight. Director: Luca Guadagnino. Cast: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson.


A Bigger Splash—the new film from director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love)—has a lot of moving pieces to it. Inspired by the 1969 Italian-French film La Piscine (and named after David Hockney's 1967 pop-art painting), A Bigger Splash is part sumptuous travelogue, part fleshy exercise in sensuality, part character drama, and part sexually-charged thriller. By not fully committing to any one of those approaches, Guadagnino's results are a bit disappointing, but the significant visual appeal and magnetic turns by the leading players make this four-hander a diverting dip into human nature: specifically, jealousy and the folly of opting for interiority over communication.

Tilda Swinton plays rock star Marianne Lane, who is enjoying time off with her boyfriend, documentary cinematographer/photographer Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts). Despite the beauty of her surroundings—the gorgeous, volcanic Italian island of Pantelleria—the privacy afforded by its hideaway nature, and the intimacy (sexual and otherwise) she shares with Paul, there's an edge to the holiday, since Marianne is recovering from vocal surgery, and no one is entirely sure she'll regain full voice. Marianne and Paul's near idyll suffers a major disruption with the arrival of music producer—and Marianne's ex-boyfriend—Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), who announces himself by cell phone as his plane descends on Pantelleria. With his sexy young daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in tow, old-dog Harry sets about inadvertantly threatening Paul's sobriety by "advertantly" flirting with Marianne.

Pointedly, Marianne has spent six years as the mate of each man, and as she suffers in near-silence (with occasional hoarse whispering), she must consider how to deal with the new tension. By way of symbolism, whip snakes regularly slither onto their remote property or, rather, their Garden of Eden. Screenwriter David Kajganich tees up Guadagnino nicely on the theme of communication and the lack thereof. "Honesty is the greatest fidelity," Harry insists, in one of his rare moments of quiet earnestness. More often, he's showboating, his own obstacles to honest communication being his pride and his bravado. He's addicted to distraction and attention as much as Paul is susceptible to alcohol. Marianne can't or won't speak, hiding behind her condition, and Penelope lies out of misguided self-protectiveness. Denial afflicts them all (although, despite their secret defensiveness, all of them strip naked before the film is over).

Guadagnino favors dynamic camera movement and editing, scattering P.O.V. shots amongst the characters to build psychological identification (and short flashbacks to fill in emotional motivation). Above all that, the film embraces the almost mocking beauty, the privileged beauty available only to people this rich, that greets these people capable of only the most fragile happiness (meanwhile, on the margins of the film, refugees struggle to be recognized by those in a position to help them). Swinton, Schoenaerts, and Johnson all give nuanced turns, but it's the fearless Fiennes who, with his showy part, accepts the invitation to steal scenes. Whether it's his ridiculous, blissed-out dance to the Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue" (in this reality, Hawkes produced for the group) or just a river of verbal diarrhea, Fiennes powers the film. As Marianne says of Harry, "He doesn't believe in limits."

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 9/6/2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Fox's Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD release of A Bigger Splash only qualifies as a special edition in the most halfhearted of ways, but that's understandable given the talent involved and the scale of the material. At any rate, it's the film that matters most, and it gets a fantastic A/V presentation. The image looks exactly as it should. The mostly sunny footage (captured on film) offers beautiful, rich color and excellent fine detail and textures, but the transfer holds up well in the dark interiors and rainy exteriors. Solid contrast and black level support the filmmakers' intent for an authentic and film-like HD transfer. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix excels at recreating the theatrical audio, with its subtle but palpable immmersion by rear-channel ambience and its full-bodied presentation of the plentiful source cues.

Promotional Featurettes include "The Silent One" (:35, HD), "The Extroverted One" (:34, HD), "The Young One" (:35, HD), "The Mysterious One" (:34, HD), "Story and Cast" (2:10, HD), "Beneath the Surface" (2:16, HD), "The Inspiration" (1:09, HD), and "Another World" (1:51, HD). As evidenced by the run times, these don't get very deeply "Beneath the Surface" with their blindingly fast bits of film clips and comments.

"Gallery" (2:25, HD) can be navigated at your own speed, slide by slide, or played through at the noted run time.

Lastly, Fox includes the "Theatrical Trailer" (1:57, SD).


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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