An uneasy erotic thriller under the Mediterranean sun
There’s a kind of murder mystery lurking on the edges of A Bigger Splash, but it doesn’t really take shape until the later portions of the film, by which time it’s become evident that this film’s most compelling mysteries have to do with quandaries of human character, especially as revealed in the four volatile, attractive, erratic people who are the story’s chief figures.
The murder mystery, such as it is, only flirts with a conventional resolution, and concentrates instead on the motives, reactions and deceptions of the main four, each of whom is arguably an instigator and a not entirely innocent bystander as well.
In the meantime, Luca Guadagnino’s film takes equally formidable shape as an exquisitely atmospheric summertime movie. The Sicilian settings, the sun-splashed cinematography, and the leisurely pacing cast a languorous spell, but there’s nothing lazy about A Bigger Splash. The film’s pleasures (and those of its characters) never really get to rest easy once the central four are in each other’s agitated company.
The four in question include a pop singer named Marianne (mercurial Tilda Swinton, who also starred in Guadagnino’s superb I Am Love) and a documentary filmmaker named Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), who are more or less in hiding at a remote seaside house. He is a recovering alcoholic and she is recuperating from throat surgery, and both of them carry signs of other wounds, emotional and physical.
Their uneasy seaside idyll is unsettled by the sudden arrival of the manic Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), Marianne’s ex-husband and friend to Paul. Hawkes is both unwelcome and unavoidable, and his fawning attention to Penelope (Dakota Johnson), a near-adult daughter whom he has only recently met, further complicates the foursome’s half-acknowledged crossfire of emotions.
Guadagnino gets good multifaceted performances from all four of the principal players. Swinton in particular adds to her extraordinary gallery of unique characterizations. And Fiennes is brilliant with the obnoxious amiability of Hawkes, a frantic and desperate manipulator who seems to be both unbearable and irresistible in almost equal portions.