Paolo Sorrentino, Piero Messina and Luca Guadagnino: the Southerners seem to be making the most interesting Italian films at the moment and using their native towns and villages as the cinematic backdrop to their narratives. A BIGGER SPLASH is set in the volcanic island of Pantelleria – nearer to Tunisia than to Sicily, it is a wild and savage place popular for its hots springs and therapeutic mud – an suitable place for a re-make of Jacques Deray’s sixties psychodrama. Guadagnino’s regular collaborator Tilda Swinton is an inspired choice as Marianne, a jaded rock star and a cross between Eve, her Only Lovers Left Alive character and David Bowie. Wise and witty, she is a statuesque and sexy heroine with an aristocratic swagger and sensitive hunky Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) who keeps her satisfied in their deserted villa, where she has come to rest her voice, after surgery.
But peace is shattered by the unexpected arrival of Ralph Fiennes, who plays Harry, an all-singing, all-dancing producer whose glib one-upmanship makes you exhausted just to look at him. Harry is Tilda’s ex and clearly still carries a candle for her and to up his ante he arrives with a trailer-trash sexbomb Penelope, who is apparently his daughter. And so begins a game of cat and mouse amongst the geezers and the rock pools, cleverly acted by Fiennes and Swinton and scripted by American writer David Kajganich (True Story).
Harry is desperate to be alone with Marianne and leave their younger counterparts to amuse themselves. So after pleasuring Marianne with some impromptu oral sex, Paul wanders off with Penelope: it transpires that there is no chemistry in the pairing and so they drift silently into the hinterland while we are entertained royally by the more captivating couple – Marianne and Harry. Marianne’s voiceless whisper throws the emphasis on her physical allure and poise and she is bedecked with some stylishly provocative outfits and eye-make-up that is a legend in its lunchtime – rivalling that of Liz Taylor in Cleopatra.
Tilda Swinton is clearly the uber-frau of the drama. Not only does her chemistry boil over with Schoenaerts: she also shares a simmering sexiness with Fiennes kicking Dakota Johnson firmly into touch. There is much pleasure in seeing a mature woman knock the younger one into a cocked hat, especially when the older one is Tilda Swinton, whose beauty and style is still unparalleled in her mid-fiftes. Fiennes gives another extraordinarily entertaining comic performance to that in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Suave and sardonic by turns, he too sports a torso taut and tanned by the Italian sun. Although there is a vague immigration theme bubbling in the background to give it gravity, Guadagnino treats this with such levity that it is almost blown away by the more-scene grabbing central thrust.
A BIGGER SPLASH is seductive witty and wonderful to watch. Although initially it appears facile, it is one of those films that grows on you in retrospect and one, quite frankly, you’ll definitely want to see again. Oscars for Tilda and Ralph. MT
REVIEWED AT THE VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | Now available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray from 27th June | http://tinyurl.com/hk29gx3