The Film Scoop: A BIGGER SPLASH

ABOUT THE WRITER: Thomas Clark is a Brisbane-based writer who loves being calm so he can read poetry better and write better poetry.

Fresh, salty air brushes over the awnings in a villa with a stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea.  Global superstar, Marianne (Tilda Swinton) relaxes nude beside the pool, as her young boyfriend Paul (also nude and played by Matthias Schoenaerts) reads under the shade. Their retreat is a time for Marianne’s voice to recover after a recent operation. Later in the afternoon, as the couple are lying on the beach with dried mud cracking on their skin, a phone call from Harry (Ralph Fiennes) disturbs them. 

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The rambunctious Harry has flown into town on a whim with his recently discovered daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson).  Harry’s manic presence fills the screen immediately as Pen floats around aimlessly like a second third leg.  For dinner, Harry takes everyone to a stunning hillside restaurant with tables sprawled beside the edge of a cliff.  Mute Marianne, sullen Paul and Pen the nymphet all look over the table to Harry for some common ground. As the movie continues, these four personalities mix together like a potent cocktail of jealousy, possessiveness and eroticism. 

In the original rendition of A BIGGER SPLASH (named LA PISCINE) Tilda’s character was an actor. Tilda said she would only agree to be in the movie if Marianne became a singer in recovery. A cunning choice for experimentation, Tilda said that “It was a moment in my life when I really didn’t want to say anything.” The decision was praised by director Luca Guadagnino as it emphasises Harry’s motor-mouth all the more, sculpting a deeper understanding of their relationship and Harry’s desire to have Marianne back.  Although the vocal problem does restrict Tilda’s dialogue, this provides a focus for any words she chooses to croak out. It also allows her to act through glares and pantomime, an interesting visual contrast to the group’s banter. 

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Luca’s storytelling can be understood alongside a comment he has made about contemporary cinema. He says, “The ideology (of contemporary cinema) is that every emotion should be understandable. In order for us to all be consumers of those emotions. It’s kind of terrifying.” Luca prefers to focus on behaviour, highlighting the “impulsive and inexorable.” For example, toward the end of the movie Pen tries to seduce Paul to walk to the beach with her. The whole movie has seen Paul as a restrained, recovering alcoholic and his dedication to Marianne seems to almost nullify the sexual tension in this scene. But when he says yes, it’s almost as if he’s said yes to an ice cold beer. Yet the outcome is never explicitly shown. The couple’s actions around Harry and Marianne during dinner give something away, but not everything. Luca has done a beautiful job of pointing the audience toward appreciating the captivating detail of behaviour, not just understanding every aspect of the plot.

The change of pace and tone towards the end of the film is a little jarring as the transition is quite abrupt. Although unexpected, over time the twist is cleverly integrated. It provokes a thrilling vibe that will leave viewers questioning their prior attachments to certain characters. Whatever reaction the audience has, they will remain captivated to the last frame by lush cinematography and compelling acting.  The biggest takeaway of the movie? A frenzied dad-dance from Harry that will forever change perceptions of Lord Voldemort.

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