Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s sultry, elegant 2009 I Am Love featured a luminous Tilda Swinton as a proper society wife hesitating, at midlife, before leaping toward freedom and happiness. Swinton returns in Guadagnino’s stylish, bittersweet romantic-intrigue drama A Bigger Splash, only this time, her character—Marianne, a bold, androgynous rock star—is so used to taking risks that she needs a spot of rest. Recovering from throat surgery, she retreats on holiday to an Italian island with her lover, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts, sturdy and sensitive). She’s unable to speak above a whisper, but her moods are always readable without words, anyway: In an early, blissful scene, she stretches naked upon a rock, a pale moon goddess surrendering to the sun.
This must be Eden. So where’s the snake? He shows up, like a Dionysian whirlwind, in the form of Marianne’s ex, Harry (a superb, sexy Ralph Fiennes), a force of nature who used to produce records for the Rolling Stones. He’s brought his daughter with him, one he didn’t even know he had until recently, because sometimes rock’n’roll is just like that: Dakota Johnson’s Penelope is pure trouble in a see-through bra top, and her relationship with her father strains at the boundaries of propriety. A Bigger Splash—a loose remake of Jacques Deray’s 1969 Eurosizzler La Piscine, with Alain Delon, Romy Schneider and Jane Birkin— is less finely wrought than I Am Love, but it brings its share of hedonist pleasures. Swinton is, as usual, coolly magnetic. And once again, Guadagnino concentrates on exploring the range of colors to be found in romantic tension, anxiety and bliss. He’s especially attuned to the place where sensual and platonic love intersect—or must part ways. The picture is at times loose and wayward, as if it has lost its way a bit on a winding rocky path, and it ends on an uncertain note that may not be fully satisfying. But its flaws are blurred by its vibrating, sensual energy. The best approach is to let yourself fall, eyes wide open, into its Mediterranean-blue depths.
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