Italian cinema is championed by the likes of Rossellini, De Sica and Fellini – renowned for the neorealism movement that was prevalent in the years that followed the Second World War. But contemporary Italian filmmakers inject a subtle sense of surrealism into their movies, taking place in a world very similar to our own, and yet different in so many ways. Be it Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, Garrone’s Reality or Moretti’s We Have a Pope, they are each entwined by a sense of tragic enchantment, and it’s this unmistakably Italian notion which is prominent in Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash – seamlessly implemented despite the international cast.
The film centres on the eminent rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton): an amalgamation of PJ Harvey, Michael Stipe and David Bowie, who is on vacation with her partner, and renowned filmmaker, Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts). Though seeking solace away from the limelight, on the remote Italian island of Pantelleria, they soon find their serenity compromised when the former’s overbearing old friend Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) turns up out of the blue, alongside his seductive daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson).
A Bigger Splash has a certain Hitchcockian way about it: wickedly sensual and enrapturing, while devilishly dark and suspenseful in parts – all the while set against a placid, breathtaking landscape; contradicting the narrative effectively. Regrettably, though, it’s Guadagnino’s self-consciousness that dampens the audience’s investment in this title, being a picture that is all too aware of its ability to be so ineffably cool, guilty of being too contrived and trite in its execution. Thankfully it’s saved by a quarter of wonderful performances – which is the least you would expect from this talented bunch.
But it’s Fiennes that steals the show, yet again establishing himself as one of the UK’s leading comedic performers. He manages to play an obnoxious character who is so in your face, and yet do in such a subtle, nuanced manner. What isn’t quite so subtle, mind you, are his dance moves – as his creative interpretation of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Emotional Rescue’ is one of the great cinematic scenes you’ll see this year.