However odd and quirky Tilda Swinton is with strange art exhibitions and film roles that are on the fringe, one thing is a constant, she brings everything she’s got to any work she’s doing and it always elevates the final product. In her new film A Bigger Splash, reteaming her with I Am Love director Luca Guadagnino, she has a great couple actors to play off of, with Ralph Fiennes and Matthias Schoenaerts, and the first great performance from Fifty Shades of Grey actress Dakota Johnson. This last thing is something I’m finally eating my words over as I’ve never had any kind words for her work, like when she was drowning across from Johnny Depp in Black Mass.
Like I Am Love, this new film bring Tilda back into the picturesque local of Italy for a story that predominantly takes place at her character’s home on the remote Italian island of Pantelleria. All the shots from cinematographer Yorick Le Saux are breathtaking, with this Only Lovers Left Alive lenser taking a reserved amaount of time fro you to drink it in and, at times, using the camera to act as a character itself with tell tale zooms and pans. It’s one of the ascpects of the film on a pile of great elements in this rich and intimate drama.
The film is about Marianne Lane (Swinton), a massive rock star taking some relaxation time at her vacation home after surgery on her vocal chords. The prognosis is shaky for her return to the stage as if she strains her voice during the healing process she may never be able to do what made her famous. Taking care of her is her young lover Paul (Schoenaerts), a soft spoken photographer and former documentarian, and the two laze their days away, naked in the sun, wrapt in each others company.
Their healing vacation is interupted when Marianne’s former lover and producer Harry (Fiennes) arrives with his daughter Penelope (Johnson) in tow. Having just found out about here existance recently, Harry and Penelope’s relationship is a little odd and close, making an already uncomfortable Paul even more so, distracting him from a real truth, that Harry has been pining for the ex love of his life, Marianne, and seeks to drive a wedge between the two by trying to rehash some of Paul’s dark past. What ensues is a story that will keep you entralled and go in directions that may surprise you.
The way each actor and actress seem to play off each other is brilliant. I really love the element of music playing a real underlying connective tissue about damaged human beings who are both made better and worse by the latching on to each other. Harry can’t seem to move on in his life without Marianne, while Paul was only able to recover from his own problems with his relationship with her. The mear thought of being without her drives both men into completely uncharacteristic actions that change them forever. All the while this is happening, the young spider character of Penelope spins a web of possible passive aggressive deciet and, in some cases, seduction to what end? The third act holds those secrets and it’s a real doozy.
As I’ve said on Flix Anonymous and the radio, Matthias Schoenaerts is a fast rising star that will catch the eye of the mainstream very quickly. Unforgettable in his villainous turn in the Tom Hardy film The Drop, he gives a softer performance here that I really dug, showing a leading man quality that is going to go over very well in North America. With A Bigger Splash’s wonderfully written script, Schoenaerts and the entire cast excel with each dialogue driven scene, Fiennes exhibiting a playfulness in his character that comes across as endearing and annoyingly abrassive when it needs to be.
Then there’s the wonderful Tilda, having to spend almost the entire duration of the film, wordlessly miming all of her words or, at times, rasping it out audibly in the one of the most interesting of her performances. We never know if getting back to the stage is something tha Marianne even wants or, at times, what she even wants out of her personal life. We know that she loves Paul with great passion but, sometimes, we see that there is so much history between her and Harry to ignore. The fact that Swinton is able to make this ring completely clear to the viewer without words to the viewer is a testiment to how fantastic this Academy Award winning actress is.
Now’s the bummer portion of the review where I have to acknowledge that no one will probably see this in theatres and it will just become a film skipped over on Netflix because no one knows what it is. On the outset, this film could resemble Angelina Jolie’s dull and sleepy vanity project By The Sea but this film is anything but. Luca Guadagnino has crafted a story about four people at varying degrees of change in their lives and tackles it with a human intimacy that is palpable from the get go. This is one of my favorite dramas of the year, now matter how much it seemed to veer off in a different direction in the final act. I give A Bigger Splash a four and a half out of five.