You may find yourself luxuriating in the sexiness of director Luca Guadagnino's hypersensual images of island love in A Bigger Splash, before diving into the waves of its characters' lives, fraught with regret and lies.
A rock star (Tilda Swinton) and her boyfriend vacation on the idyllic volcanic island of Pantelleria, sunbathing and having sex in silence. Unexpectedly crashing the party is Ralph Fiennes as a wild, hard-living music producer intent on winning back the rock star he palmed off years ago on her current lover.
While Guadagnino's I Am Love (2009) established him as an auteur of visual decadence and Swinton his Pygmalion-like muse, in Splash, Fiennes is the life of the film. He delivers a performance of such energy that it threatens to overtake the meditative beauties Guadagnino offers. Swinton's aging rock star, fresh from surgery to her vocal chords, is instructed not to speak. Conveniently, Fiennes never shuts up. He is the epitome of excess and the antithesis to Matthias Schoenaerts as Swinton's younger, recovering-alcoholic lover.
A Bigger Splash is a film basking in its locations, lifestyles and characters. The countryside settings filled with swimming pools, dinner parties and nude sunbathing are photographed with an atmospheric attention to detail that lends to the authenticity of being there. It is a film that relies on the actors to live in their characters. Playing Fiennes' 22-year-old daughter, Dakota Johnson is sexier and more erotic here than she was in Fifty Shades of Grey. As Johnson teeters on the edge of Lolita-type sexuality, Swinton embodies the Bowie-like rock star in a believable performance that relies solely on facial expressions and body language.
While the film is billed as a suspenseful, erotic thriller, it's more of a character study that builds to a surprising climax. Then, the film dances around, like Fiennes frolicking to the Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue" in one of the most memorable scenes.
Critic's Grade: B+
SEE IT: A Bigger Splash is rated R. It opens Friday at Fox Tower.