Friday, June 3, 2016

Movie Review #432: "A Bigger Splash" (2016)

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Movie"A Bigger Splash"
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

A rock star named Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is vacationing in Pantelleria with her long term boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) while she recovers from vocal surgery. Their vacation is interrupted when her charismatic and obnoxious ex Harry (Ralph Fiennes) crashes their peaceful rest with his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), causing unwanted tension and multitudes of chaos.

"A Bigger Splash" is the latest film from Italian director Luca Guadagnino. It stars Tilda Swinton, who worked with Guadagnino previously on the Oscar nominated film "I Am Love." Swinton plays a rock star named Marianne Lane, who is on a long vacation with her boyfriend Paul, played by our recent discovery and rising favorite actor Matthias Schoenaerts, while she recovers from vocal surgery and cannot speak. All the two of them want to do is to relax in Pantelleria, lay around naked, eat good food, and have sex. All of their relaxation is cut short when their vacation is interrupted by an unexpected visit from Marianne's ex Harry, played by the immeasurably wonderful Ralph Fiennes, and his recently discovered twenty-something daughter Penelope, played by Dakota Johnson. The moment Harry and Penelope crash into their lives once more, everything, including Marianne and Paul's seemingly stable relationship, is upended and thrown into a chaotic cyclone of lies, nostalgia, sex, intrigue, music, food, love, hate, animosity, and potential peril.

The character of Marianne spends the majority of the film silent, with Tilda Swinton trying to convey her performance through facial expressions and hand gestures due to her vocal surgery recovery. It takes something of an acting genius to pull off a mostly hushed performance, someone with an innate ability to emote with only their eyes, mouths, hands, and body. Swinton is just the actor to pull this sort of role off. She is fantastic, but then again, when is she not? Marianne has been with Paul for 6 years, the same length of time she was with Harry before their relationship ended. It's easy to see why she's pick Paul over Harry. Harry is the kind of person who is simultaneously charismatic and overly and outwardly obnoxious, moving a million miles a minute with a mouth like a freight train as he skirts from one story to the next, babbling and always moving like he is high on cocaine, even when he isn't. Fiennes is another impeccable actor, and he plays the role well despite how we feel about his character here. Harry is frenetic, fast paced, and clearly has ulterior motives. Dakota Johnson's Penelope is the young seductress-turned-daughter, who seems to derive pleasure from getting a rise out of people, the kind of woman who will lie around half naked just for kicks and giggles, sheepishly toying with those around her. Pen (for short) has a rather large chip on her shoulder, though we don't quite know why at first. Schoenaerts' Paul is the square of the group, though only when compared to the other three. He stays away from addictive vices, clearly loves Marianne, but it always feels like he's holding her back in some way. When Harry shows up, he has a hard time hiding his disdain and disgust with the man who essentially gifted his current lover to him. These four characters are constantly teetering on the brink of destruction, it's just a question of who will be the one to light the match to set it all ablaze.

From the opening scene, BigJ and I knew we'd have a bit of a tough time writing this review. Most movies are made to be consumable for the masses. "A Bigger Splash," however, is not. Most mainstream moviegoers will hate this type of movie because it is partially artsy for the sake of being art. The cinematography in this film might contain some camerawork that will make cinephiles everywhere want to dry-hump the screen. Regardless of how we feel about the movie, dear god, some of the shots are absolutely breathtaking. The way Guadagnino plays with the light, the camera angles, the shots, the zoom, it's really something. BigJ was a bit turned off by some of the camera work here, though I can't recall ever being annoyed by it.

When we say that "A Bigger Splash" won't be for everyone, we don't just mean because it's very artistic. It opens with a shot of Tilda in the full Swinton, bare-assed and laying sprawled over rocks while reading a book. From there, she and Schoenaerts make passionate love in a pool while opened-mouth kissing, almost to the point of violently, and then they roll around together on a beach lathering each other up with the mud next to them. If this doesn't paint a good enough picture, it goes on from there. There's a line within the script where Paul says to Harry, "you're obscene," to which Harry replies, "we're all obscene, everyone's obscene. That's the whole point." This movie is very, very sexually driven. Sex, as well as sexual intrigue, are heavy themes in the context of the plot. All four of the principle actors display themselves in their entirety, with Fiennes offering the full monty on multiple occasions. There is also a lot of sexual tension between characters as Harry attempts to seduce Marianne to come back to him, and as Penelope endeavors to stir the shit pot and to send vibes Paul's way. There is also a weird sexual tension between Harry and Penelope, which will be off putting to some viewers considering they are father and daughter.

Despite these hefty occurrences and themes, as tension tries to be built around these scenarios, we can't help but feel a little bit underwhelmed. A lot of the taut anxiety that should be there never feels based in reality. It feels more theatrical than it does a feature length movie. We never felt truly immersed and compelled by what was going on. The entire thing does also drag from time to time. It isn't until well into the third act before anything all that truly interesting happens. This extremely slow character building will also put the majority of moviegoers off.

Though brimming with sex and jealousy, "A Bigger Splash" is absolutely a movie for fans of the craft of film making. It feels like it has been skillfully made specifically for critics and indie lovers alike, and will certainly not have mass appeal. The content is messy, the drama intriguing, but never to the point where we felt like we wanted to itch out of our skin because we were waiting for the other shoe to drop. That being said, the performances are exceptional, there's no denying this. While I liked it more than BigJ, we both agree this is the type of movie that serves a dual purpose for both the sake of art and for the viewing pleasure of only a few.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 5.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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