Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton), is a rock star recovering from throat surgery in Sicily with her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). But their holiday idyll is disrupted by the sudden re-appearance of Marianne’s ex, Harry (Ralph Fiennes).
Suitably for a film in which Tilda Swinton plays a chameleonic rocker, A Bigger Splash isn’t so much a remake as a glammed-up, gaudy cover version, like a rather quaint and even old-fashioned erotic chamber piece from the ’70s blasted into the 21st-century with a Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt. But like Luca Guadagnino’s last film, the simmering 2010 melodrama I Am Love, the genre itself is neither here nor here. What matters most is the director’s punk-rock attitude to what’s on screen, whether in the art-pop soundtrack or the often kitsch visuals – as with I Am Love, there is a wilful disregard for the usual rules of ‘proper’ cinema, with Guadagnino using the tricks of Italian exploitation cinema (lots of crash zooms and sinister foregrounding) to disconcerting effect.
It has a boisterous quality that was missing from its emotionally buttoned-up predecessor, I Am Love.
But style isn’t the be all and end all here – Guadagnino also has a fondness for actors, which is ultimately what lifts his work from the realms of pastiche. And though he is clearly infatuated with Tilda Swinton’s chiselled features, which are showcased at every turn, A Bigger Splash has a bawdy, boisterous quality that was missing from its emotionally buttoned-up predecessor. For this we have to thank, of all people, Ralph Fiennes, the once reliably stiff-upper-lip Brit who plays Marianne’s rollicking old flame Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a hyperactive record producer – who, for some reason, turns up with his taciturn, estranged daughter (Dakota Johnson). Fiennes is on fire here – loud, louche and often nude, if a little pudgy round the hips – and when the film literally stops to admire his gonzo dancing to The Rolling Stones’ 1980 hit Emotional Rescue, it hits the movie’s sweet spot, blurring the fine line between ‘unforgettable’ and ‘cannot be unseen’.
The sexually charged four-hander that ensues, however, should be more provocative than it is, with Schoenaerts clocking up yet another bland supporting male role that wastes his intelligence and charisma. Worse still, when Fiennes isn’t fizzing up the screen, that whole dynamic goes with him, leading to a climax that ought to be powerful and ironic yet simply falls flat – a crushing damp squib of an ending for a film that begins with a tone of anarchic, irreverent promise.
Ralph Fiennes dazzles as a rock’n’roll maverick in a stylish, unorthodox erotic drama that tries hard but fails to maintain its eccentric momentum.