Film review: A Bigger Splash

David Gritten / 12 February 2016

David Gritten takes a look at this re-make of Sixties French classic La Piscine.

At first glance, there’s a lot to like about A Bigger Splash, a four-character version of La Ronde set in a holiday villa on the picturesque island of Pantellaria, between Sicily and the north African coast.

For one thing, its sun-baked vistas are great to look at. And it can claim an impressive cast – Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Belgian heart-throb Matthias Schoenaerts (Far From the Madding Crowd, Suite Francaise) and Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey).

Also, it’s directed by Italy’s Luca Guadagnino, who was responsible for the admirable (if tremulous) romance I Am Love (also starring Swinton) back in 2009.

The problem with A Bigger Splash is that its story is shallower than the swimming pool around which much of the action takes place.

Tilda Swinton has the most memorable role, even though she barely utters an audible word. She plays a rock star named Marianne Lane who talks in a whisper (if at all) to protect her voice after a throat operation. She looks the part, though: with her reddish hair cut in a boyish crop, she faintly resembles David Bowie on the cover of his Low album. 

Schoenarts plays her boyfriend, a quiet (and slightly dull) video cameraman, while Johnson is Penny, a sultry but petulant young woman who makes up the foursome with her father. This turns out to be Fiennes, creditably stretching himself as Harry, a loud, boorish, self-regarding record producer who was once Marianne’s boyfriend. (He also acts in a wincingly over-intimate manner with Penny, who he only learned was his daughter the previous year.)

Fiennes’ is clearly the eye-catching performance here, but his character is so obnoxious and irritating that he quickly exhausts one’s patience. In one scene, Harry boasts how he helped produce a distinctive sound on the track of a Rolling Stones album, and then lip-syncs their Emotional Rescue, with pelvis-thrusting moves. (The business-like Mick Jagger, one suspects, wouldn’t tolerate a Harry around him for five minutes.)

This remake of the 1968 French film La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) starring Alain Delon follows its narrative more or less faithfully. He fancies her, she fancies someone else, while someone get the picture.

A Bigger Splash (which borrows its title from the famous David Hockney painting for no justifiable reason) may be easy enough on the eye – but in dramatic terms, it ends up floundering in the deep end. 

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