Movie Review: “A Bigger Splash”

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Harry Hawkes is loud, boorish and overbearing, a real life of the party because he insists on being just that.

To state the obvious. Never was a man so intent on making a splash, or in his case, “A Bigger Splash.”

But there’s a desperation to this guy’s face-consuming grin, Harry’s backslapping way of bowling over friends or anyone more polite or genteel or considerate than he is.

Harry, given every ounce of impulsive, brash, unfiltered brio that Ralph Fiennes can give him, is the last thing rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) needs as she recovers from throat surgery. Her beau, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) will say it even if she has no voice.

“Jesus, does he EVER stop?”

The answer is “No, never,” and before Paul can get out his objections on the phone, Harry is off the plane on the small Italian island where they’re staying, imposing himself and a young lady (Dakota Johnson) on these two with not so much as a “by your leave.”

Of course they’ll pick them up at the airport. Of course they can stay in their modest villa.

“Christ, THAT took long enough,” is what passes for “Thanks” from Harry.

He’s a record producer, and the young woman is a daughter he never knew he had. Harry and Marianne have history. Paul knows this history and is wary.

Harry’s flirtatiousness extends to one and all, even his supposed daughter. And sparks are sure to fly, as the woman who cannot talk cannot get in a word edgewise to protest this blast from her past that threatens to blow everything up all over again.

“A Bigger Splash,” a remake of “La Piscine (The Pool),” a 1969 French film starring Alain Delon, is directed with a tantalizing sexual tension by Luca Guadagnino, who also gave Swinton the sexually charged star vehicle “I Am Love.”

It is a movie of sumptuous, sun-baked and terraced hillsides, tiny, curvy dirt roads, a quaint town, remote tidal pools and a real pool…which Harry dives into naked, always without invitation.

There’s a competition set up. Who will bed whom, who will get out of here with what he or she wants? Flashbacks fill in the characters’ history together, third act revelations undercut some of that history.

The performances are of the meaningful, lingering stares variety, everybody working out what everybody else’s game is.

Fiennes exults and explodes and throws his weight around, Schoenaerts simmers and Swinton, sort of playing a Patti Smith/Joan Jett/Bowie mashup, sways back and forth in the tug of war.

splash2Johnson tries on a Lolita-tease, hinting that there’s nothing innocent going on behind those bangs. She is, as she has been ever since “Fifty Shades of Grey,” attractive without creating anything interesting to watch. Guadagnino lets his camera linger over her more enticing body parts. She is piling up a lot of performances that call for her to be naked, but at least she isn’t alone here.

There’s heat and confrontation and a big dollop of melodrama in “A Bigger Splash,” a film whose location and situation dredge up memories of ’60s Euro-thrillers (“Knife in Water”) and Italian sexual melodramas (“Swept Away”).

It never measures up to any of those, as Guadagnino melodramatically telegraphs the script’s foreshadowing. It’s a slow film — patient might be a more apt description — as we can sense betrayals and confrontations almost from the start. I was actually disappointed that more anticipated red herrings weren’t tossed into the simmering sexual soup cooked up here.

But the striking Italian setting encourages the nudity, and the filmmaker and cast lead us into temptation, even though we can see it coming from a long way off.

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MPAA Rating:R for graphic nudity, some strong sexual content, language and brief drug use

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson
Credits: Directed by Luca Guadagnino, script by David Kajganich, based on the French film “La Piscine.” A Fox Searchlight release.

Running time: 2:04

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