A Bigger Splash

Posted on May 12, 2016 at 5:23 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating: Rated R for graphic nudity, some strong sexual content, language and brief drug use
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Violence including homicide
Diversity Issues: Background of race and class issues
Date Released to Theaters: May 13, 2016

Where there is Eden, there is usually a serpent. In this case, it is literal and metaphoric, as Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Marianne (Tilda Swinton) are blissfully happy in a lovely home with a pool on an exquisite island near Sicily. Occasionally they are confronted by local wildlife, including a couple of snakes. But mostly they lie naked outdoors, make love in the pool, and go swimming, slathering mud all over each other then sleeping as it dries. Both are recovering, which means both are vulnerable. Marianne is a rock star — in a flashback we see her on stage at an enormous arena with the crowd shrieking her name. She has had an operation on her vocal chords and must not speak at the risk of losing her voice entirely. Paul is a photographer and documentarian who has been to rehab for substance abuse and a suicide attempt. They are gentle and loving with each other.

And then the cell phone rings. It is Harry (Ralph Fiennes), Marianne’s former producer and lover, and he says he is landing on the island in five minutes and needs to be picked up. He arrives with a very young woman named Pen (Dakota Johnson) and it is clear that they are there to break things — to break the silence, to break hearts, to break the fragile peace Marianne and Paul have found when they left home to get away from people like Harry. “We’re hiding out,” Paul tells him. “Not from me!” Harry replies.

Harry is loud, carelessly arrogant, and needy. Some people are obnoxious because they do not know better; Harry knows and relishes it. He is the kind of guy to take up with a girl Pen’s age, but it turns out she is his recently discovered American daughter. Partly because he did not know he was her father until she was grown and partly because he lives in the space between outre and obscene. He literally pees on a grave. “Everyone’s obscene,” he says, “that’s the whole point.” He does not believe in limits, with one possible exception he claims to put on himself. After a lot of hinting from Harry, Marianne invites him and Pen to stay in the house they are renting.

“A Bigger Splash,” takes its title from a David Hockney swimming pool painting, is a remake of the 1969 Alain Delon film “La Piscine” (“Swimming Pool”). The characters experience need, fear, love, loss, and deception. They reflect the power and corruption of celebrity while around them we see glimpses of desperate refugees held in pens. Beautifully composed images show dreamlike settings, but there are intrusions within the pristine purity of the house: the shadow of an airplane about to land, a reptile on the table, some gauche visitors invited by Harry. “You’re not speaking, sweetheart,” he says to Marianne. “So I had to make other plans.” Small details are superbly chosen — a dress awkwardly worn in one scene turns up again later where it is more suitable, Harry’s story about producing a Rolling Stones song (with a fabulous dance), both Harry and Paul placing pills on Marianne’s tongue, a glint of gold and silver on her eyelids. It’s a mood piece, brilliantly performed, resonating like a bell that was rung days before.

Parents should know that this film includes very explicit nudity, sexual references and explicit situations, drinking, smoking, drugs, violence including homicide, and very strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Marianne invite Harry to say with her? Why did Pen lie?

If you like this, try: “Swimming Pool” and “Laurel Canyon”

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