A Bigger Splash – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

It’s like the snake crawling into The Garden of Eden when a loud, lustful, limitless intruder crashes the private party of a couple vacationing in Italy. Soon sumptuous food, raucous laughter, festive music, intoxicating drinks and drugs, heightened sexual tension, sparkling bodies of water, and glistening bodies of the rich and privileged turn this once-intimate affair into a very public gathering.

A Bigger Splash stars Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes. Copyright 2015 Jack English/Fox Searchlight Pictures.

A Bigger Splash stars Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes. Copyright 2015 Jack English/Fox Searchlight Pictures

A Secluded Vacation

Rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) enjoys a secluded vacation on the island of Pantelleria while she recovers from throat surgery with her much-younger lover, Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts), a handsome documentary filmmaker. Their idyllic stay is marked by nude sunbathing, sexual intimacy, and Paul’s nurturing love as Marianne’s sole caretaker while her voice and throat heal. Their bond is so strong, and their compatibility so apparent, that we know something very bad will happen very soon.

The unexpected arrival of Marianne’s old boyfriend and music producer, Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) and his newly discovered 22-year-old Lolita-like daughter, Penelope Lannier (Dakota Johnson) bring disruption and discordance. From the moment their private plane lands on the ground, the perfect paradise reveals itself as a serpent-infested land of lawlessness – where fame and wealth allow these four to gain access when others cannot. No restaurant, club, or beach is off limits for these folks, and no secret is too private, personal, or painful to reveal.

A Man of No Limits

Harry has humor and charm, but also exhibits an uncontrolled, boundary-pushing side that irritates Paul and still intrigues Marianne. Amid the lush setting so beautifully depicted in this film, and scantily clad (and often naked) bodies, Harry’s relationship with his nubile daughter crosses over into unsavory territory. Through flashbacks, we see how Harry’s former relationship with Marianne ended and her new relationship with Paul began. Old rivalries and jealousies resurface, as well as new urges emerging from edgy conversations amid the primitive backdrop.

The story intentionally begins at a slow, leisurely pace, and then ramps up considerably as natural animalistic urges come closer to the surface. Tension builds with each encounter, until soaring music and raw emotions imply a more complex subtext awaits anxious viewers. Although motivations for Marianne, Paul, and Harry are fairly evident (and all three actors excel in these complex roles), Penelope remains something of a mystery. Reasons for her sustained anger, deceit, and seductiveness are hinted at without an explanation. Johnson is left with little to do, other than smirk as others struggle to communicate, flaunt her young body to the older folks, and generally add to the discomfort of each situation.

Raw and sensual, A Bigger Splash examines how people compete for love, fame, power, wealth, and attention. It’s a fascinating character study where the location becomes its own character with startling beauty and stark contradictions.

A Bigger Splash

  • An exotic, idyllic vacation of a rock star and her filmmaker boyfriend is thrown into turmoil when her old boyfriend and his sexy daughter drop in without an invitation.
  • Stars: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson
  • Director: Luca Guadagnino
  • Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery
  • Run Time: 124 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for graphic nudity, some strong sexual content, language, and brief drug use)


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