Thursday, 25 February 2016

Film: 'A Bigger Splash'

A mighty strange film, this - one that left me perplexed and dissatisfied.

I was looking forward to it, not only because of its attractive casting, but I was seriously expecting it to have some connection with David Hockney's most famous painting (and the 1974 film about the artist) with which it shares a title. Alas, no such luck. In the event the only thing, as far as I could see, that they have in common is that they both feature an outdoor, private swimming pool. So, why that curiously misleading title for this film? Why not have called it 'A Big Splash', or simply 'A Splash'? ( I shrug my shoulders and try to forget my having been led up the garden path).

On the small Mediterranean island of Pantelleria (No, me neither. I had to look it up and found it lies halfway between Sicily and Tunisia), former rock star (unlikely, but it's Tilda Swinton), having totally burnt out her vocal chords singing in huge stadia, and so now only communicating through signs and mimes, is sojourning here with her boyfriend of several years, Mathias Schoenaerts (looking as smoking hot as he ever has), when they are joined by a former long-term affair of hers, Ralph Fiennes, and his celebrity actress-daughter (Dakota Johnson). From his first appearance at the airport the Fiennes character is, and remains throughout, totally insufferable - a high energy motormouth who constitutes the most irritating adult character I've seen on screen in many moons. It's not what he says so much as his being unable to shut up or stop interfering. How Swinton could ever have fallen for him enough for them to have lived together for some years is a mystery - and furthermore, it's clear that she still retains marked affection for him.  

We only see Swinton's rock career in brief flashbacks when she appears on-stage at an open-air rock concert in Bowie-esque glittery attire, though we never actually hear her singing. During the course of the film her speaking voice only very gradually recovers, until by the end she manages barely audible forced whispers.

The first half of this two hour film carries its own problem in that very little happens to excite our interest - aside from the stunning shots of the little island. Our focus of attention is diffused, though if it's on any one of the quartet at all it's on Fiennes who loves to hog the limelight (singing along with, mugging and 'dancing' in Jagger-like strutting fashion, to the Rolling Stones' 'Emotional Rescue' being just one of his, er, 'highlights'). I've never seen Fiennes in any film let his hair down as much as he does here, and in this film it's not only his hair that he lets down - we've got fleeting full-frontals several times. I had to keep telling myself that it's only the intensely annoying character that he's playing in order to prevent myself wanting to walk out of the cinema! 
Schoenaerts manages to keep his cool for most of the time and remains a brooding, comparatively economically-spoken figure. (Btw: Such a cinematic cliche here. If anyone in a film insists that they don't want a cigarette because they are a non-smoker, you can be sure as anything that later on in the film you will see them smoking. Much the same happens with films where there's the rarer appearance of a vegetarian who, you can be certain, will later be seen scoffing on meat.)

After this non-eventful first hour the film does pick up a bit when relationships among members of this central foursome start getting, shall we say, tangled - but it took an awful long time getting to this point. Then an event happens involving two of them which spectacularly changes circumstances for all.

Director Luca Guadagnino has already established a fair career in film, including a few involvements with Tilda Swinton, their 'I Am Love' (2009) notably being, in my opinion, far, far superior to this curiosity.

If this film was aiming to be attractive by qualifying as an 'arty' film I'm afraid it missed me by a mile, though I've no doubt that there will be quite a number who are indeed captivated by it. You might be tempted to see it, as I was, because of the cast, and if you are, then that's fair enough - though if you thought there'd be any echoes of Hockney, I'll consider to have done you a favour by dispelling any such notion beforehand. If you do see it I'd be most interested to learn your own thoughts. Meanwhile, I can't rate 'A Bigger Splash' any more than.....................4.5.


  1. This is showing at my local and I too was expecting something Hockney-related. So thanks, I think I will give this one a miss, much as I usually enjoy Tilda Swinton.

  2. Actually, Judith, it might be better appreciated by those who don't make the misplaced Hockney connection of the title. It still begs the question of why they chose it. Surely it;s not a coincidence. Somebody MUST have been aware - and Tilda would certainly have been.

    I like to see Ms Swinton in any film and she's not bad in this, though her role here is a curious one.
    But overall I'm left sensing that there's some aspect of the film I'm missing which makes it something 'special' - and I'm hoping that someone will tell me what it is.

  3. Ray,
    I won't see this film because I'm not a fan of Ralph Fiennes. He's one of those scenery chewers. I avoid those movies that employee scenery chewers. Of course the biggest scenery chewers is Kenneth Branagh. By the way, is he still acting, er chewing scenery?

  4. You're right to stay well clear of this one, Ron. Ralph F not only chews the scenery, he devours it whole!
    Yes, Ken B is still on the go - more directing, these days. than acting - and more on stage than on screen. But if I ever hear of R.F. and K.B. working together on a film I'll let you know well in advance as I know you'll be simply aching to see it. ;-)

  5. I saw a Q and A where the director explicitly outlined the connections between the painting and the film. I was convinced.

    1. So there really is a link, G & G? I only wish I could have enlightenment as it's been gnawing at my mind ever since. Must be very tenuous indeed! But thanks anyway.