A Bigger Splash

22 March 2016 | 1:52 pm | Guy Davis

"All in all, A Bigger Splash is a movie that casts a mild but intoxicating spell."

Decadence and domesticity wrestle for dominance in A Bigger Splash, a sun-kissed psychological noir from Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) that is heavier on sensory immersion than narrative momentum.

However, there is enough plot — and enough interest generated in the interaction between its four central characters — to maintain attention, and Guadagnino's handling of atmosphere, mood and tension does the rest with great aplomb.

Rock star Marianne (Tilda Swinton) lives a charmed life with her lover Paul (Matthais Schoenaerts), a documentary filmmaker, on the idyllic Italian island of Pantelleria, even if her famous voice has been temporarily hushed to a hoarse whisper following a throat operation.

Still, things are about to get loud for the couple, thanks to the arrival of Harry (Ralph Fiennes), Marianne's ex — both personally and professionally — and Penelope (Dakota Johnson), the daughter he never knew he had until recently.

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Fiennes nails the invigorating but exhausting energy of bon vivant Harry, who regales all and sundry with name-dropping tales of producing albums for the Rolling Stones before dancing up a storm to Emotional Rescue.

And while he's the one who set up Marianne and Paul, he still feels connected to his former lover, slyly implying that the stable Paul is a "square bear… built for hibernating".

But is Paul all that square? After all, what happened that afternoon he and Penelope went hiking to that remote lake? And what's up with Penelope anyway? The bond between her and Harry appears a little more complicated than the usual father-daughter relationship.

If that all sounds a bit Lifestyles of the Louche and Dissolute, Guadagnino and his uniformly strong cast (Swinton is as good as expected, Fifty Shades of Grey's Johnson continues to breathe life into underwritten characters) also unearth scenes and sequences of emotional honesty and complexity, as well as moments of simple pleasure and joy. All in all, A Bigger Splash is a movie that casts a mild but intoxicating spell.