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A Bigger Splash

Luca Guadagninos Version of SWIMMING POOL (1969) is set on the Italian Island Pantelerria, where a rock singer (Tilda Swinton) has retreated with her lover to heal from an operation on her vocal chords. When her ex-partner Harry and his daughter ...


The title A BIGGER SPLASH is by no means hiding the fact that director Luca Guadagnino’s film is the third version of the same material. Jacques Derais’ LA PISCINE was a hit in 1969 chiefly because of Romy Schneider and Alain Delon. The story of two couples having affairs with each other till someone is found dead in a pool was presumably a reference to the death of Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones. Francois Ozon’s version, SWIMMING POOL (2003), only carries over some of the motifs – a young woman and an older one, erotic tension, and the pool as a metaphor for sexual desire – and made a strange and psychologically precise film about art production and desire.
In A BIGGER SPLASH, which is titled after a David Hockney painting, Tilda Swinton is rock singer Marianne Lane who has retired to the Italian island of Pantelleria after an operation on her vocal cords. The first scene has her standing in a huge stadium surrounded by cheering fans donning Ziggy Stardust inspired makeup, but the scene ends before she even makes a sound. Right after: naked lounging on a rock and sex with her younger lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) - a sensual idyll right until her ex-partner Harry (Ralph Fiennes) appears with his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Fiennes portrays Harry as a horrible pain in the neck, a loud show-off who only plays his own productions in Marianne’s record collection so he can praise his own ideas and awkwardly dance while sweating profusely. In his quieter moments he tries to convince Marianne to make a comeback and pulls out all the stops – from karaoke in a village bar to a culinary expedition on a farm. The closer Marianne gets to being seduced by Harry the clearer it is what an unappealing couple they must’ve made: a couple of big-mouthed, narcissistic scoundrels who fit right into the rock landscape. Harry’s daughter tries her best to make Paul see how irresistible she is. He stands in the shower, washing his hair. Verdi’s Falstaff is playing to announce his self-pity and corruptibility.
Guadignino weaves together dark tones in the setting sun. When the two couples go to an exclusive open air restaurant on their first evening, Harry has to relieve himself on a rock. Paul says he should be careful because it’s an old cemetery and a cello begins playing to evoke doom and the camera glides up the mountain which seems to be a bit forward-leaning, as if the island’s ghost wants to stand up to the desecration and swallow this entitled man whole. Five seconds of horror and the disruption is over, but the discomfort isn’t.
Another element enters the story. There are objects that were left behind by refugees strewn on the beaches and pathways: tattered swim vests, backpacks, and clothes. Evidence of a substantially more meaningful drama than what the four unlikable protagonists are going through. Paul and Penelope walk to a lake and encounter four male refugees. The pair take a step back and look at them scared while the refugees look surprised, exchange a few words, and head in another direction. Two worlds that couldn’t be more different collide. The misjudgment that they don’t have anything to do with each other is integral to the plot. The arrogance with which the rock star entourage take control of the island – including its authorities and institutions – mirrors the imperial arrogance of Europe’s ruling class. Guadagnino gives cinema what it wants: sunshine, naked bodies, sex, and crime while simultaneously disassembling the plot’s foundation. A great underrated European filmmaker.

Tom Dorow

Translation: Elinor Lewy


Frankreich/Italien 2015, 120 min
Genre: Thriller
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Author: David Kajganich
DOP: Yorick Le Saux
Montage: Walter Fasano
Distributor: StudioCanal
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Aurore Clément, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson
FSK: 12
Release: 05.05.2016




  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles

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