Hollywood has lost the knack for and the interest in movies about gorgeous people doing absurd things, so Luca Guadagnino is showing producers how to do it. A Bigger Splash consists of a love roundelay among a quartet of beautiful people on Pantelleria. In the first ten minutes rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) and her documentarian boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) hike, swim, and tongue each other while rubbing mud on their bodies. And it only gets gaucher. A Bigger Splash delighted me more than any movie I’ve seen in weeks: sunburned Matthias Schoenaerts, a mostly mute Tilda Swinton, Italy, rocks, pools, Tattoo You – gimme more.
The last is the Rolling Stones’ 1981 album, acknowledged as the last time they owned the popular moment. The same can be said about Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a record producer who enjoins a reluctant Marianne and Paul to pick him at the airport when he visits. On his arm is a girl named Penelope (Dakota Johnson) on the cusp of full womanhood. His daughter, he says (“I finally put some pieces together and figured it out,” she says brightly). Balding and proudly out of shape, Harry speaks in a delighted motormouth that bulldozes resistance. It isn’t long before he’s jumping nude into the swimming pool, exploiting Marianne’s fame to get a table at a chic restaurant at the summit of a mountain (when in Italy…), chugging daiquiris and wine, and swimming nude some more – and this is all on the first day. The glum Paul’s affection for Harry is mitigated by wariness; years ago Harry and Marianne had been lovers, and from the way they joke and nuzzle they might be again. Meanwhile Penelope, surrounded by the midlife crisis set, feels stirrings of lust herself – for Paul.
Shot by Yorick Le Saux as if to capture every sweat-soaked T-shirt, drop of chlorinated water, and dollop of ricotta, A Bigger Splash is as meaningful as a Negroni, the cocktail I recommend viewers mix and imbibe when watching this splendid twaddle. The star is Fiennes, in whose performances I see no trace of the starchy colonizers he played in the nineties. As a sybarite, Fiennes has no equal; Harry would frighten Voldemort into exile again. Learning Italian to read Boccacio, mincing around a living room to the beat of the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue,” Harry’s moving on the balls of his feet (there’s altogether too much classic rock in this film, despite my affection for Nilsson and Harry’s account of how he got Charlie Watts to drum on garbage cans for 1994’s “Moon is Up”). He can’t understand why a newly sober Paul can’t have fun or Marianne can’t shed her inhibitions. Swinton, whose Marianne has to conserve her voice, croaks her lines but she’s such a physical actress that she can convey her lusts by throwing an arm here, widening her eyes there; she has become among the most sensual of screen presences. As for Schoenaerts, well. A Bigger Splash is a loose remake of 1969’s The Swimming Pool, a movie about Alain Delon in a bathing suit. It’s a close call whether Delon’s pokerface and abs or Schoenaerts’s crinkly scowl and magnificent thighs deserve a pagan worship ritual. By the 60-minute mark even Paul has gotten into the spirit of the proceedings. “He’d fuck you too,” Marianne informs him. “That makes all of us!” he says in triumph.
A filmmaker who combines the lightness of Stanley Donen and Luchino Visconti’s knack for illustrating the angst of beautiful ninnies, Guadagnino previously made I Am Love – a heavier load but not as entertaining as this bowl of seafood risotto. Only the silliness of the last half hour keep A Bigger Splash from kitsch heaven; the change of tone is like a mourner at a keg party. Pictures like A Bigger Splash remind me of what directors of Marvel flicks abandon when they insist on keeping Chris Evans and Scarlet Johansson in colored pants.
A Bigger Splash his available on pay per view.