Luca Guadagnino dives into the Venice competition with A Bigger Splash, a remake of Jacques Deray’s La Piscine. This is a solid reworking of the French sexual thriller.
Shifting the action from St Tropez to Pantelleria in Guadagnino’s native Sicily, the story revolves around Marianne (Tilda Swinton, who was also in the director’s I Am Love). She’s a rock star who’s recovering from surgery on her vocal cords and therefore has to mime or whisper. She and her young lover Paul (Matthias Shoenaerts) are happy in their silence, making lazy love in the pool and taking trips. This quiet idyll comes to an abrupt end with a phone call.
The surprise is his daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), purportedly 22 she is a sullen Lolita-like presence who seems to have her sights set on Paul. Has Harry deliberately brought potential chaos with him as well as his own breed of personal havoc? Fiennes is a force of nature in this film, an utterly compelling character who breathes life into every scene. He charms everyone (except Paul) and you can’t take your eyes off him. When he’s not around, the film dies a little and suffers without him.
This is not to say that the rest of the cast are not excellent, it’s just that their characters are quieter – Swinton’s literally so. Swinton is not entirely believable as an aging rock star, despite her real-life Bowie-esque credentials. Her name suggests echoes of Marianne Faithful, as do the flashbacks to her and Harry’s sexy drug-fuelled relationship plus the many references to the Rolling Stones. Yet her stage look is somewhere between Chrissie Hynde and Ziggy Stardust. Either way, the Marianne we see on screen is far from rock and roll. However, the relationship between Marianne and Paul is utterly convincing.
Guadagnino took the film’s title from David Hockney’s painting of the same name and the references to the bright sunlight and pool, so central to the story, are all captured in Hockney’s work. It is also a clear signal that while this is a remake, it’s a new and different take on the darker original.
The film was loudly booed at the press screening and the culprits were predominantly Italians. Whether this was due to the comedic depiction of the star-struck police chief, played by Corrado Guzzanti, or the slightly heavy-handed inclusion of the refugee situation on Sicily’s islands is hard to say. Personally, I found Penelope a hard character to swallow – the cliché of the predatory female a little old. But the film has much to offer, primarily Ralph Fiennes, who could walk away with a prize for his dazzling bravura turn.