Although A Bigger Splash will only be released in Belgium on April 6th, the film premiered in Kinepolis Antwerp last Friday, on March 11th. The hall of the cinema complex was filled with impatient fans, mostly female though, because the one and only Matthias Schoenaerts was showing up together with the Italian director Luca Guadagnino (Io Sono l’Amore, 2010) to introduce the film. We still like to call Matthias ours, a Belgian actor in heart and soul, but he spends most of his time abroad, acting in big Hollywood productions like The Danish Girl (Tom Hooper) and Far from the Madding Crowd (Thomas Vinterberg).
A Bigger Splash is a remake of the 1969 French La Piscine by Jacques Deray (with Romy Schneider and Jane Birkin!), but with a modern 00’s touch and a couple of new plotlines. Personally, I am not quite sure yet, whether I should call it a drama or a thriller. Certainty is, that it is a film replete with intrigues and sexual tension. In the Guadagnino-version, the world-famous rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) retreats for a holiday to the sunny Italian island of Pantelleria (near Sicily) to recover from a vocal cord surgery. She seeks rest together with her lover and documentary-maker Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is still fighting against an alcohol addiction. They seem perfectly happy on their own, until Harry and Penelope show up. Harry (Ralph Fiennes) is Marianne’s producer and ex-lover, Penelope his thought-provoking daughter.
The actor who clearly steals the show is Ralph Fiennes, already established in Hollywood for many years, with his caricatural performance as Marianne Lane’s record producer. His acting is so over the top, what actually makes it so good, promiscuous and equally affecting. Harry is an exhibitionist alpha-male, who came to the Island with a clear purpose, namely to seduce Marianne again. The physical and emotional attraction between them is undeniably still there. His so-called daughter Penelope is the most mysterious of them all. Their almost erotic father-daughter relationship increases the tension, but what you mostly wonder about is who she really is and why she hides essential facts for the others. (No, I won’t spoil anything!)
The setting and cinematographic style is what makes the film so exotic and the sexual tensions so acceptable. Guadagnino spends a handful of time on showing the beautiful Italian landscapes and the glimmering sun on the island. Just like in the French Original, the swimming pool of their luxurious villa is the symbol of lust and male competition and functions as a justification of provocation. The deep blue colour of the water and the extensive dark-light contrasts throughout the film turn A Bigger Splash into a real beauty.
Guadagnino also pays attention to the local cultural heritance by shooting a scene where the 4 of them visit the local carnival of San Gaetano. That specific night out serves as a turning point, after which the couple Marianne and Paul seem to get more involved in the exhibitionist and provocative way of life of both father and daughter.
Unfortunately, Tilda Swinton fails to convince us in the rock star episodes. They look commercial and are the least powerful of the entire film. This subplot appears to be too Hollywoodian in contrast to Guadagnino’s mainly Italian realist narrative and cinematographic style. Nonetheless, A Bigger Splash is a perfect synthesis of Hollywood and European cinema.