Bigger Splash: Sexual Desire and its Powerful Impact, Enacted by Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson

a_bigger_splash_posterThe blinding sun, spectacular landscape, and full-frontal nudity offer alluring images in A Bigger Splash, a rather dark and disturbing tale of sexual desire and its owerful (and destructive) impact on four characters that are involved in interlocking social ties.

World-premiering in the 2015 Venice Film Fest (in competition), where I saw it, A Bigger Splash is now theatrically released in a platform mode by Fox Searchlight.  Back then, the feature divided critics between those who saw it as  shallow Euro art trash picture and those (like me) who were willing to show patience with the silly and indulgent moments to dig beneath the surface imagery.

In the press conference, the Sicilian director Luca Guadagnino said that the film’s title is inspired by a famous erotic painting by David Hockney and that the contents (but in fact only the premise) is based on Jacques Deray’s  1969 French La Piscine (The Swimming Pool), a highly charged erotic thriller set in the French Riviera and starring the gorgeous-looking Alain Delon and Romy Schneider as a couple whose  isolation is interrupted by the arrival of another ouple (played bybthe likable Maurice Ronet and Jane Birkin).


That all four roles are well cast and well-acted by Ralh Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Dakota Johnson, is a major plus, elevating the psychodrama above its melodramatic trappings and sporadically silly moments.

a_bigger_splash_5Fiennes, who should be considered now as the most versatile and talented actor of his generation, plays Harry Hawkes, a successful English record producer, who’s still sexually and emotionally intrigued, even obsessed, by his former lover, Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton), a famous rock star, who has lost her voice and can communicate only through gestures.

The relationship, or rather interest, seems to be one-sided, as Marianne has moved on in her life and is now living with a younger, handsome companion, a filmmaker named Paul De Smedt​ (Matthias Schoenaerts).

a_bigger_splash_1_johnsonComplicating matters even more is the fact that Harry arrives at their lush villa in a gorgeously picaresque, highly secluded Italian island, unexpectedly accompanied by his newly discovered adult daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson).


Young and beautiful Penelope exudes overt sexuality, when she is clad in tight jeans and tiny bikini—and especially when she unselfconsciously removes them to sunbath in nature in the presence of her host.

a_bigger_splash_3Each of the characters is unsettled, disturbed, and burdened by all kinds of problems. Paul, we learn, is a recovered alcoholic and insecure in his friendship with Harry and relationship with Marianne. Harry is selfish, aggressive, and both destructive and self-destructive.  Penelope is not only immature and self-observed but shows no concern for Marianne and her fame. (Unfortunately, her bond with Harry is too ambiguous and mysterious for us to care about it).

a_bigger_splash_4Making no secret of his love and lust for Marianne, Harry begins to engage in all kinds of sexual and psychological games, motivated by his compulsive and uninhibited pleasure.  Can Marianne resist Harry’s seductions? Will Penelope succeed in luring Paul?  And most importantly, what impact would the various forms of sexual desire have on this strange quartet, whose affluent, upper class members appear to behave (and misbehave) in self-indulgent manner; they often give the impression that nothing matters beyond their pleasure seeking and immediate gratification.

a_bigger_splash_2The film is directed by the Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, who inverted Swinton’s screen persona in the 2009 cult movie, I Am Love, which is a much better and original feature .

Making his English-speaking debut, Guadagnino directs with smoothly assured hand and admirable precision, building suspense steadily to an unbearable, tragic climax, set late one night in the swimming pool (the film’s most important locale).






While watching the film, I inevitably recalled Antonioni’s L’Avventura (and other features), not least because it is set on the rocky, isolated  island of Pantelleria, in  south Sicily, during one long, hot, sweaty and fateful summer.

a_bigger_splash_7Unfortunately, the very last act of the picture, which is penned by David Kajganich, is incoherent, and silly too, almost negating the intensely intriguing psycho-sexual dynamics that defines most of the story (Though it cannot be revealed here, an Italian colleague told me that it was inserted to accommodate a famous Italian thespian).




End Note:

In 1974, Jack Hazan also made a movie called A Bigger Splash.