Sun bleached and husky voiced, rugged and impassioned, with a soundtrack that will remain on repeat until long after that final scene, Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash – just like I Am Love before it – is the embodiment of style. Style is on holiday in a remote Sicilian mountain village, with a disarmingly chic principal cast, primed to seduce both one another and their audience in this heady heat.
Intruding on the private life of Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), A Bigger Splash seems to gently borrow from the Hockney painting’s saturated tableaux, an azure swimming pool and a disruption. Erotic from the get-go, the deceptive peace of the scenery implies safety and stability, but this is oh-so-cruelly shaken with the arrival of the aforementioned disruption, in the shape of Harry…
Anyone wondering whether Ralph Fiennes would ever return to the revelatory physical mania of The Grand Budapest Hotel will be happy to see this surpassed as Harry, the Rolling Stones loving, ex-lover of Marianne Lane, Swinton’s rockstar alter ego. Gyrating, quaffing and lunging around, Harry is firecracker of a character, jetting in to their idyllic mountainside retreat and bringing nothing but turmoil and memories long past with him. But boy, are we glad of his visit.
We are also glad of Luca Guadagnino and Tilda Swinton’s reunion. As her character recovers from a throat operation to repair her ravaged vocal chords, Swinton is almost entirely silent throughout the film, relying on gestures, looks and whispers to articulate herself as the noise of impending chaos grows louder around her.
Returning from a former life, Harry brings with him Penelope (Dakota Johnson), his is-she-isn’t-she 22 year old daughter. With Marianne banned from speaking, their unlikely group splinters leaving her reminiscing and searching for perfect ricotta with Harry and her hunk of a husband hiking mountain trails with the booty-short wearing temptress. Switching to default for this set up, we’re geared for some partner switching, and while that’s almost inevitable, this dynamic offers more. More than lust – though that’s undoubtedly a spark – there is something about the silence matched with chaos and noise that makes these frictions more pronounced. Marianne whispers, Paul watches, Penelope listens and Harry, well, Harry dances. And he dances all over the perfection of Marianne and Paul’s relationship with aplomb.
A worthy and graceful partner to I Am Love, and fingers crossed, a nod that we can expect more of this wondrous pairing of Swinton and Guadagnino. Just be ready for The Stones’ ‘Emotional Rescue’ to echo round your head and the image of Fiennes’ thighs to be seared on your retinas…with neither evenutality being entirely unpleasant.
The 59th BFI London Film Festival continues until Sunday 18 October: bfi.org.uk/lff