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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

A Bigger Splash

Provocative & Dangerously Intimidating


A Bigger Splash is one of those provocative troubles in paradise/vacation indies where baggage means drama, not suitcases. Set under the boiling Mediterranean sun on the Italian island of Pantelleria, famous rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is vacationing with her filmmaker boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) at a lovely private villa.


They both have their own reasons for much-needed relaxation. Marianne has just had surgery and temporarily lost her voice, communicating only through signs and groggy whispers. Paul is a recovering alcoholic, raw from a recent suicide attempt. They both need isolation from civilization. The first time you see them both together, the looks on their faces are ones of complete and utter harmony. The lavish tranquility is almost immediately disrupted by the arrival of Harry Hawkes, (Ralph Fiennes) Marianne’s former boyfriend and Paul’s former mentor. He also brought along his daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson) and the villa soon finds itself hosting four occupants.


All four actors unwrap their characters like bubble wrap throughout the film. You’re always about to get a pop of who each person is. Harry is very arrogant but in a fun way. He's a very unconventional person with no filter who’s also very cultured, flirtatious, and always happy. He's the polar opposite of the reserved Paul who silently tolerates the presence of a man who was once his friend while Marianne finds herself conflicted with old feelings resurfacing.


Dakota Johnson is a much more talented artist than people give her credit for. She understands the importance of authenticity and silence can sometimes scream the loudest. Penelope is like a tiger watching its prey from a distance. She's an observer. She takes everything in and uses it to her advantage. Like her father, she's very flirtatious and has no reservations in regards to anything. She's also a very patient person. She's finally getting to see the world and her inner tiger lets her know just when and where to pounce on her desires. Patience can only take a person so far and Johnson’s performance as a young person on the verge of adulthood is a testament to her talent as an actor. The soaking wet young woman who boards the plane alone and in tears at the end of the film is not the empowered confident beauty you see in the beginning.


The giant climax is one of the irréversible circumstances that changes everything. After all, vacations can't last forever. Fortunately for audiences, the compelling writing keeps A Bigger Splash vibrating with intense electricity while the music and cinematography still keep Pantelleria looking exotic and far from anything familiar. No amount of drama can keep the crystal blue waters and cliffs of Italian perfection from looking anything but desirable. Even when the surface of the clouds and the rain starts pouring down, you know it's because of the heat and that the superb imagery will resurface in only a matter of time.


A Bigger Splash is a very unapologetic film because it deals with the smug power someone can obtain from getting under someone else's skin and making them feel uncomfortable. “We’re all obscene. That’s the whole point, but we love each other anyway” Harry says right before the big climax. It's frightening how on point Fiennes is in his delivery of that line. Many of us are drawn to people who aren't good for us and there's no clear reason as to why. A Bigger Splash demonstrates such a relationship and the film remains dangerously intimidating because of it. It'll hit close to home for many audiences but that's just part of its international charm. Vacations end but some splashes are just too big to ever rid yourself of.



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