FlixChatter Review: A Bigger Splash (2016)

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When I first heard of this film, I was immediately intrigued by the premise of an idyllic sun-drenched holiday that’s being disrupted by an unexpected visit. The people on holiday are famous rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) and her lover, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). When we’re introduced to the couple, they’re stark naked by the pool on their villa. They read books, sun bathe, make love, basically enjoying a blissful time together in this picturesque remote island of Pantelleria, Italy.

Soon though, their moment of euphoric existence comes at an abrupt stop when Marianne’s old flame suddenly arrives on the island. They reluctantly pick them up at the airport to find Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his young daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). What strikes me right away is how exuberant Fiennes was in this role, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so vivacious on screen.

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Things unfold in a rather unhurried fashion. I didn’t realize at first that Marianne is rendered practically mute as she had just undergone throat surgery, so even though there are glimpses of her in rock star mode (a la Bowie), we didn’t hear her voice until later in the film. She communicates with gestures, and Paul pretty much doing the talking for her. I’m glad I hadn’t read much about this film before seeing it, and so I won’t discuss much about the plot in my review. I do however, want to talk about the acting in this film, as it’s truly the highlight.

Fiennes and Swinton are absolutely marvelous here, displaying their acting versatility and proficiency. I’ve mentioned how exuberant Fiennes was. There’s an extended dance sequence where his character express himself through music that’s truly a joy to behold. In contrast, Swinton is much more reserved, communicating her emotions through subtle gestures and facial expressions. I have never seen such a romantic side of Swinton. She looks absolutely sensuous and glamorous here, and casting her as a rock star is absolutely spot on. I also adore every single outfit she wore here, they’re all perfectly-tailored for her. The fact that she’s unable to speak somehow creates an intriguing tension to the nervous energy that’s already present in the group. Every time these two are on screen, I was truly in awe.

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I had seen Schoenaerts in a couple of things (Far From the Madding Crowd, Suite Française) and he’s certainly got a pleasant countenance about him. He displays a certain unpredictability here that the role of Paul requires. As for Johnson, I have to say she’s the weakest link here but I think it’s more to do with the fact that her character is the most underwritten. Up until the end I don’t really have much of a clue what she is all about and thus it’s hard to care for her character.

Working on a script by David Kajganich, Italian director Luca Guadagnino weaved a tale of jealousy, frustrated passion that escalates to a boiling point. What started out as a drama slowly unravels like a whirlwind and turns into something sinister. I’m glad there’s still that element of surprise and I really didn’t know where things will lead. Unpredictability is always something I appreciate in any story. There’s also a bit of humor thrown in throughout, especially that bit with the local police fangirl-ing over Marianne.

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The island of Pantelleria is practically a character itself in this movie. The stunning cinematography by Yorick Le Saux (who also shot Clouds of Sils Maria) is definitely a plus here, but it’s the gripping story and fantastic performances that made this a memorable endeavor. Being that it’s a European production, there’s a frankness with sexuality and nudity, but yet the way it was shot it didn’t feel crude or distasteful. I wouldn’t say the film is perfect however, it felt a bit tedious at times and the filmmaker luxuriate too much on in the scenery. I’ve also mentioned the part about Dakota’s character not being as well-developed. I do think her casting might be more suitable than Margot Robbie who’s initially cast, as she would’ve been too mature-looking to play a late teen.

So overall, this is quite an absorbing psychological drama. I saw this film at a morning press screenings and there were less than five people in the entire theater. That’s too bad as I think this film deserve a larger audience. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for something off the beaten path that’s superbly acted.

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Have you seen ‘A Bigger Splash’? I’d love to hear what you think!

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30 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: A Bigger Splash (2016)

  1. I do want to see this though I haven’t seen anything by Luca Guadagnino though I do like the work of Yorick Le Saux who shot some of the films of Francois Ozon. Plus, Tilda Swinton as a Bowie-like star is $$$$$$$. Especially since she played his wife in one of the last music videos he did a few years ago in “The Stars Are Out Tonight”.

    1. Tilda Swinton as a Bowie-like rock star was awesome!! There’s only a brief scene of that but man, that was cool to watch! I had no idea she played his wife in the music video, I have to see that!

  2. Glad to see you liked it. I agree the acting was amazing, but personally I didn’t enjoy this movie. Thought it was too long and the final part was strange.

    1. Hi Nostra! I hear ya, there are times I felt the movie was kinda tedious and indulgent, but I was really mesmerized by the two leads and Schoenaerts is an actor I’ve grown to appreciate. So I guess the good overweighed the bad for me.

    1. Definitely worth a rent! I’m glad I saw it on the big screen though, those Sicilian scenery was quite breathtaking, as was Tilda & Ralph!

  3. I’ve never heard of this movie but from your review, it sounds interesting. Might give it a watch when it’s on Netflix.

    Speaking of Netflix, I did watch Dark Valley and enjoyed it. The story took a while to get going but it’s beautifully shot.

    1. Yeah, it’s an indie so not many people have heard of it as they didn’t have a huge budget for promotion like blockbuster movies do. But it’s well worth a watch.

      Glad you saw Dark Valley! Yeah the story took a while to get going but I like how things unfolded, there’s this mystery and tension surrounding Sam’s character. But man, once the killings start it was quite gory, I had seen this three times now but I had to fast forward all those gory stuff in the mountains. I thought Sam was excellent as a strong, silent type cowboy!

      1. Lol, I didn’t think Dark Valley’s that gory at all! I know you’re excited for Sam’s new film Free Fire, I anticipate that one will be super violent since it’s directed by Ben Wheatley who loves to shoot graphic violent scenes.

        1. See, we obviously have very different threshold of what’s violent 🙂 That part when the guy’s hit by a huge branch w/ nails on them is very gory to me.

          I’m a bit scared now of Free Fire! I’m actually gonna interview Sam’s double in that film, I have a feeling he’d die a violent death 😦

          1. Ha ha, I think I’m just not as bother by the violent scenes in movies anymore because I’ve been watching super violent movies since I was very young. I thought Dark Valley’s violence scenes were very tame compare to say The Revenant or some other violent westerns.

            Nice! Look forward to reading your interview with his double. But yeah I think Free Fire is going to be very violent since Wheatley said he’s inspire by all those gangster films from the seventies and mentioned Sam Peckinpah.

    1. Yeah I think the performances definitely outweighed the film itself, but the story is intriguing and kept me glued for the most part.

  4. I thought this was absolutely marvelous until the last half hour or so, when (tiptoeing around spoilers, obviously) the movie suddenly decides to stop being a character drama and transform into a procedural. Was like letting air out of a balloon, for me.

    Still loved enough about the first 2/3 to highly recommend it to people. The performances are glorious, indeed. Could’ve watched Ralph Fiennes dancing for two hours straight. 😉

    1. Hello CB! It’s ok to talk spoilers in the comment as ppl might not read ’em 🙂

      Yeah that procedural part w/ the Italian cop was odd, not to mention that suddenly he decides to ask for her autograph, in the rain!! WTF! I didn’t want to mention that but I thought it was so odd but hilarious at the same time.

      I might’ve graded this higher because I was truly mesmerized by Fiennes and Swinton who are absolutely marvelous playing against type. Never seen Ralph so gregarious & Tilda so sultry… and I think the story itself is intriguing, esp regarding Ralph’s character’s relationship w/ Tilda’s.

    1. It might’ve only played for a couple of weeks. It’s really a pity when good indie films barely got any publicity or decent release. But yes, do see it when it’s out on VOD!

        1. That was the case w/ Pride + Prejudice + Zombies, it was in theaters only for 3 weeks! 😦 I think you’ll like A Bigger Splash, it’s a slo-burn psychological drama with very strong performances, LOVE Tilda & Ralph!

          1. I love both those actors too, and a slow-burn psychological drama sounds riiiiight up my street.

            And P+P+Z played for a single week here. I’ve still gotta watch that one

            1. Definitely right up your street! I like that it started out very much like a drama, but there’s this underlying tension that kept creeping up.

              I’ve been enjoying my PPZ bluray 😀 I do think it’s more of a period drama than a zombie movie, but yet the two unlikely genres somehow mesh quite well!

  5. Nice review Ruth. I heard alot of praise about this when it came out a few months ago, still haven’t gotten a chance to see it, but will definitely try to check it out.

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