“A Bigger Splash”: Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes pivot around each other marvelously as ex-lovers — she’s a rock singer, he’s a cocaine-fueled producer — who get into trouble at an Italian villa. 3 stars out of 4.
Luca Guadagnino’s moody drama “A Bigger Splash” is, unexpectedly, a study in charisma, with two wildly different performances at its center.
Tilda Swinton is the film’s quiet beacon, drawing all eyes to her in her portrayal of Marianne, an internationally famous rock star who’s recovering from throat surgery and can’t speak above a whisper. Opposite her is Ralph Fiennes, generally a master of elegant subtlety, who explodes into the role of the loutish Harry, a music producer and Marianne’s ex-lover; he’s the sort of person who’s constantly performing, gleefully pleased with himself.
The two make up half of a four-person romantic and emotional tangle, which also includes Marianne’s current lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a filmmaker, and Harry’s daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), of whose existence Harry has only recently learned. (“I’m 22, you know,” she says, in a voice that conveys how very young she is. She’s a potentially interesting character, but emerges only as a sexy cipher.) All converge on the picturesque Italian island villa where Marianne has been recuperating, with Paul at her side. Reptiles sometimes drop from the ceiling onto the table, which seems as good a metaphor as any for the trouble brewing here.
Movie Review ★★★
‘A Bigger Splash,’ with Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson, Aurora Clement, Elena Bucci. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, from a screenplay by David Kajganich. 124 minutes. Rated R for graphic nudity, some strong sexual content, language and brief drug use. Pacific Place, Guild 45th, Lincoln Square.
Though its pacing feels uneven at times, “A Bigger Splash” is exquisitely filmed — there’s a long shot, pulling away from a swimming pool, during which you’ll forget to breathe. And the actors guide the film through any slow spots. Guadagnino has directed Swinton several times, most recently in the gorgeous 2009 melodrama “I Am Love,” and it’s a partnership that clearly works: Swinton (who suggested the idea that Marianne be temporarily mute) makes the role into a fascinating master class in the eloquence of near-silence and the silvery nuances of a whisper. A single scream comes out of Marianne, late in the film — it’s terrifyingly feral.
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And Fiennes, whose preening Harry seems made from a volcanic mixture of self-absorption and cocaine, valiantly works to steal the film from her — and often does so, particularly in a long scene midmovie. Overcome by the Rolling Stones song “Emotional Rescue,” he ecstatically sings and dances, losing himself in the beat and the song. For just that moment, Harry’s the rock star; he is, at least in his own mind, larger than life.