A Bigger Splash is a distinctly musical film. It’s a music film, too – with Tilda Swinton channelling her versatile Bowie charisma as a world-famous rockstar and Ralph Fiennes exhibiting some irrepressible dance moves as a record producer – but what makes the film sing is how director Luca Guadagnino effortlessly bridges its distinct tones.
From the soft jazz of the idyllic Mediterranean through coke-tinged rock ‘n’ roll to something operatic – dramatic, dissonant, surprisingly political. These tonal shifts are instigated by the arrival of Fiennes and his daughter (Dakota Johnson), who disrupt the peaceful rest of Swinton and her lover (Matthias Schoenaerts) on an island off the Italian coast. Fiennes’ mix of bohemian freedom and confrontational honesty challenges the couple’s serenity (“We can’t be naked anymore”) while probing old wounds.
Despite the ‘erotic thriller’ tag, A Bigger Splash’s European setting – unbelievably gorgeous yet filled with unmistakably symbolic snakes – is closer to the existential atmosphere of Antonioni’s arthouse films than the heightened sexuality of Paul Verhoeven. (One obvious Hollywood influence – in the mid-section – is Scorsese, emphasised when “Jump Into The Fire” kicks in.) The plot is slight, but compensated for by the film’s depth of characterisation, impressive cinematography and undeniable sense of rhythm.