"A Bigger Splash," by Luca Guadagnino (ITA)
Venice Film Festival 2015 - Main Competition
Name: Sabine Kues
Loud drums accompany the closing of Marianne Lanes concert with the crowd going crazy in a full stadium. The camera follows her as she gets off the stage. Cut. The loud soundscape is harshly interrupted by silence. We find Marianne who is lying at the poolside with Paul. Only the chirping cicadas brake the peaceful scene.
In his fourth feature film, Italian director Luca Guadagnino presents again Tilda Swinton in one of the leading roles, after previously starring in his I am Love (2009). The film draws its inspiration from Jacques Deray's cult film The Swimming Pool (1969) starring Alain Delon and Romy Schneider. This time around, Swinton is playing the famous rock star Marianne who, after surgery on her vocal cords retreats to the Italian island of Pantelleria with her partner Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). Their literal tranquility comes to a sudden halt when former partner and music producer Harry joins them with his just recently discovered daughter, in the prime of her youth, starring yet again Dakota Johnson.
From then on the story intensifies more and more as the serenity of a couple enjoying each other’s company turns into an ambience of mistrust and aggression as old stories from the past keep on surfacing.
The structure of the film encourages this return of the past with continuous flashbacks showing the common history of this love triangle. The tranquility and silence, as Marianne and Paul hardly talk due to her surgery comes to an abrupt halt with the arrival of Harry, played amazingly by an hyper-active Ralph Fiennes. The soundscape irrevocably has to change, as he is the exact opposite to Paul: loud, importunate, funny with a tendency to craziness but his extroversion also gives him a soft side by easily bonding with people. This had even once brought Paul on the scene, as we learn that Harry ultimately was the one who introduced the couple with exactly the intention of hooking them up. Now in their progressed years, finally wanting to settle down or being well on their way of having settled down, this gathering of old acquaintances turns into an explosive mix.
An erotic tension comes with every move the characters make, lounging half-naked in the deck chairs with the camera moving along their exposed skin. Especially the young daughter Penny obviously is trouble, as she pleasurably peels a fig and intensifies her gazes more and more on Paul. The weather forecast announces the hot Scirocco wind going to hit the island soon with sand from the Sahara. With the blast of the wind comes the blast from the past. Deeper desires and intentions will be laid open – confounding every bond between this group of people confined on the island.
But the film also tells as if in passing the story of more people seeking asylum on this island: war refugees. Through the news on the radio, television and also direct encounters on the island the film returns to this highly acute political theme throughout the development of the story. A bit misleading at times, the question persists: is the story of the group of friends a metaphor for Europe's treatment of people seeking help behind its borders – or vice versa?
It seems neither is the case, but merely the nature and location of the island which calls it a necessity to pick up the subject. The film has good intentions but does not really come to terms on this one.
While especially the soundscape succeeds here in transmitting the different atmospheres of the present and the past and creates the ultimate suspense, as well as being the strongest force in characterizing the protagonists, the film does occasionally annoy with the seen-before Lolita played by Johnson and the awkward silence by Swinton.