15 February 2016

Luca Guadagnino’s ‘A Bigger Splash’

Dangerous liaisons at the poolside

Ignoring its Hockney-referencing title, Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash is a remake of Jacques Deray’s La Piscine or, if you prefer, of his The Swimming Pool, both from 1969. Such alternatives exist because Deray shot each scene in English and in French. After editing the two versions, La Piscine came out slightly longer. Deray’s plot was set in a villa in Saint-Tropez (SE France), a locale favoured at the time by the French New Wave. Guadagnino’s was filmed, more interestingly for a contemporary audience, in Pantelleria, an Italian island midway between Sicily and Tunisia.

But the plot is essentially the same: a psychodrama among a quartet which turns into a limp roman policier. Marianne (Tilda Swinton), a famous rock-star, and her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) are staying at a villa on the island while her voice recovers. Then Harry (Ralph Fiennes), her ex, descends on them with his sultry student daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson). It was Harry who had introduced Paul to Marianne. Although it seems, rather improbably, that Harry only learnt about Penelope’s existence recently, she behaves like a chip off the old block, for, while he sets about disrupting the couple through his relationship with Marianne, Penelope has designs on Paul. Harry also goes out of his way to irritate Paul by revisiting times past. Things are clearly not going to end well.

Ralph Fiennes (last here in the NT’s Man and Superman) is a study in manic obnoxiousness and boorish energy. Schoenaerts (last here as a German officer in Suite Française) demonstrates his versatility as an American this time. Swinton, (a remarkably upper-class lady, even by the standards of the UK stage nowadays), according to Mark Kermode:
is the real star, her decision to render Marianne all but mute (the original script apparently gave her pages of dialogue) reaping silent scream rewards.
Well, perhaps. For some people, a substantial part of the attraction of this film will be the island of Pantelleria, even muter.

Hereafter possibly a spoiler, but the attitude of the local Italian police inspector to events at the villa made what seemed an unconvincing transition. Initially suspicious, but stretched in charge of a force overwhelmed with refugees, Maresciallo turns into one of Commissario Montalbano’s comic opera sidekicks.

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