A Bigger Splash (4 stars)

A Bigger Splash

LFF 2015: Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton are old flames in this fun-filled remake

Jacques Deray's hot and heavy La Piscine (1969) is just the jumping off point for this tale of sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll, which borrows its name from the David Hockney painting. Italian director Luca Guadagnino, best known for I Am Love, is once again an expressive force at the helm of a film which reunites him with muse Tilda Swinton and features some unforgettable dance moves from the newly game Ralph Fiennes.

Swinton plays iconic rock star Marianne Lane, shown in flashback as a cross between Bowie and Chrissie Hynde. Her present, off-stage persona is something softer but no less striking, as she sports immaculately tailored trouser-suits and sweeping skirts, a tousled quiff and mirrored shades. Marianne is introduced addressing a packed stadium before the film cuts cheekily to a shot up her backside as she reads naked on a ledge in Pantelleria, where she's recovering from an operation, with her adoring hunk o'man Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) by her side. Their retreat is shown to be both lusty and perfectly peaceful, as she's been instructed to rest her voice, an idyll that's shattered when Marianne's flamboyant old flame, music producer Harry (Fiennes), bounds into view with his 22-year-old daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in tow.

Although Fiennes – still channelling The Grand Budapest Hotel's roguish Gustave – is an irrepressible scene-stealer, Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich act as modernisers; as the quartet fight and laugh and fuck, the filmmakers make the story all about the female characters, who are imbued with far more personality and potency than their passive counterparts in the original. Harry even articulates this when he says to Paul, 'I think the women should change things now, we've had our chance.' The pair are in thrall to Marianne's breezy confidence, celebrity status and talent and Penelope's shamelessly wielded sexual allure, and the women share some key, albeit tense, scenes together.

Tonally it's a lot lighter than the original – there are numerous eccentric touches and the earlier film's enigmatic approach is taken to task as Harry's eyebrow-raising relationship with Penelope is explicitly questioned, leading to a hilariously awkward supermarket scene. The cast share ample chemistry and, in the spirit of hedonism and equality, they all get their kit off. Shot with sun-kissed aplomb by Yorick Le Saux (I Am Love, Only Lovers Left Alive), A Bigger Splash lives up to its title by being every bit as exuberant and refreshing as it sounds.

Screening on Fri 9 and Mon 12 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 12 Feb 2016.

A Bigger Splash

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • Italy, France
  • 2h
  • 15
  • Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
  • Cast: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts
  • UK release: 12 February 2016

Rock star Marianne (Swinton) is recovering from a throat operation with her lover Paul (Schoenaerts) when they're visited by Marianne's flamboyant former lover Harry (Fiennes) and his seductive daughter (Johnson). This exuberant and refreshing remake of 1969's La Piscine has far more interesting female characters than the…