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“A Bigger Splash” showcases Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton in a new light

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There’s almost an embarrassment of riches on display in the new movie A Bigger Splash, at least in terms of the main cast members. Consider how excited most cinema buffs would be for anything that starred Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton, but then factor in how this is a change of pace for them both, along with A Bigger Splash being a high profile title on the fall festival circuit last year, and that only adds to the hype, as it were. Having seen the final product, I’m not too wild about it, but it is really hard to beat this cast. With the film headed to theaters this week, I figured it paid to discuss this one a bit. It’s certainly an indie movie of note, no doubt about that.

The film is loosely inspired by La Piscine (or The Swimming Pool), but mostly is just its own thing. Set almost exclusively on the Italian island of Pantelleria, the erotic thriller begins by showing us the vacation life of rock star Marianne Lane (Swinton) and her partner, filmmaker Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts). Marianne is recovering after an operation on her throat and can’t speak, so Paul is not just her lover, but now somewhat of a caretaker as well. When Marianne’s former flame, the record producer Harry Hawkes (Fiennes) unexpectedly drops by, that’s enough of a disruption of their lives on its own, but Harry hasn’t come alone. He’s actually brought his daughter Penelope Lannier (Dakota Johnson), who he only found out about a year ago. The duo becoming a quartet leads to all sorts of sexual tension and just tension in general, leading up to something that I won’t spoil for you all. Luca Guadagnino directs, with the screenplay coming from David Kajganich (with Alain Page receiving a Story credit), cinematography by Yorick Le Saux, and a supporting cast that including the likes of Aurore Clément, Lily McMenamy, among others.

For me, the first half of the movie is greatly superior to the second half, but one constant throughout is the pleasure of watching Fiennes and Swinton play against type. The former is full of manic energy and almost bounces around like a pesky mosquito, while the latter plays two very different aspects of her character. On the island, she’s giving a quiet and almost silent performance as a rocker who can’t speak, while in flashbacks, we see her channeling her inner David Bowie, though often without any singing going on. When we’re meeting these characters, the film is very enjoyable, and even a little sexy. Once the full reach of the plot begins in the midst of act three though, it becomes something else entirely and it mostly lost me. That first half however, really does showcase Fiennes and Swinton.

I’d peg this flick as a long shot for too much in the way of awards attention, but there’s definitely a chance that it catches on. Assuming this becomes a player, campaigns could begin to rumble in longer shot categories like Best Picture, Best Director (for Guadagnino), and Best Original Screenplay/Best Adapted Screenplay (for Kajganich and Page). More likely though is it being the actors or bust, so look for Best Actress (for Swinton), Best Supporting Actor (for Fiennes and/or Schoenaerts), and Best Supporting Actress (for Johnson) to be where the actual effort lies. I think Swinton is probably the only one with a chance to score anywhere, though it’s a smaller one for sure.

In the end, A Bigger Splash is mostly notable for what Fiennes and Swinton get to do. Starting in just a few days time, audiences can scope this one out in limited release and see what they make of it. If you’re a fan of Fiennes or Swinton (or even Johnson, who is underused but effective here), I suspect you’ll enjoy at least a good portion of the movie. It’s an imperfect film, but one that looks great, has a loose vibe, and definitely tries to do something different. You probably can do better at your local theater over the weekend, but trust me when I say that you can do a lot worse a well. As such, it probably pays to give this one a shot…

Be sure to check out A Bigger Splash, in theaters this weekend.

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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