By Keeva Stratton
In this powerful portrayal of a woman torn between her current and former lover, sexuality, desire and authentic identity are explored in this probing film on the human condition.
Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is a rock star recovering after throat surgery, on a remote and picturesque Italian island. Her lack of speech matters not a whit, as she and her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is also recovering from addiction, are completely in synch physically with one another.
That is, until Marianne receives a phone-call from her former manager (and long-term love), the insidious Harry (Ralph Fiennes). Harry, and his recently discovered near adult daughter (Dakota Fanning), besiege their tranquillity with a surprise visit and a prolonged unwelcome stay.
With their arrival comes a range of tensions, and long buried feelings begin to surface, causing Marianne to reflect upon her youth and question her more mature self. Having Harry around is particularly challenging to Paul, too, who was introduced to Marianne through him, and who has since fallen deeply for her.
Harry represents the past. A loose, drug-fuelled euphoria that ties closely with Marianne’s external persona as a rock’n’roll wild child. But Marianne has changed, and with Paul by her side, a more sophisticated, tamed soul appears, much to Harry’s chagrin.
We’ve all been there (or at least, many of us over 30 have)—torn between the memories we glorify through a youthful image of ourselves, and the need to redefine our maturity, or justify it to those who knew us from before.
In Marianne’s case, her image as a rock star cements her ties to the past, as does her affections for Harry. But, if she wants to keep her attachment to Paul, she will need to reconcile her sentimentalism and expunge Harry from her life, once and for all.
I spoke with the film’s director, Luca Guadagnino, during his visit to Sydney, where he shared his hopes for what the story could achieve: ‘There’s a lot of layers and a lot of experience. It’s a testament to the writing that so many layers and experience are evident in the characters.’
‘I think it’s about being completely connected and truthful to who you really are. Life is not black and white; life is a sum of ever changing facets.’
In reference to Ralph Fienne’s at times jarring character, he explained: ‘You can have someone who is annoying at some times and someone who is fascinating. It is the magnificence of Ralph Fiennes [that people can find the likeability in this character].’
Working with his long-time collaborator in Tilda Swinton also had Guadagnino excited: ‘It’s a joy, it’s fantastic, it’s miraculous. It gives you the possibility to be complex, and sophisticated and universal, and Tilda can pull off all of these.’
He was happy, too, to have his female leads guide him through the film’s obvious focus on female desire, which he captures so truthfully: ‘I think it has to do with my great collaborators, Tilda, Dakota… I’m very open to listen and I am also very fascinated by femininity. I think A Bigger Splash is also about male identities but I have been always drawn to female characters, female complexities and identities—always.’
He was also thrilled to be once again collaborating with House of Dior for a second time; with outfits designed during Raf Simons’ time at Dior’s helm helping to bring the inner character of Marianne to the surface.
According to Guadagnino, working with Dior meant ‘doing something very beautiful and very unique. Also, very real for the character. It’s a testament of intelligence the way people can understand the character through clothes, without overpowering a character through outfits.’
It’s a creative process that began with the film’s costume designer and the team at Dior. According to Dior’s website: ‘She’s dressed in two Dior jumpsuits in flashbacks, a zippered black one in the recording studio and another in sequinned stripes in front of a screaming crowd. On the island, she seeks anonymity behind her DiorSoReal sunglasses. Her new life, again still in Dior, leads towards a pure minimalism, less androgynous, but always with a telling twist, such as knotted shirts, or pared down, perfect white dresses with bared backs, as if to reveal her flaws.’
As Guadagnino puts it, ‘We asked ourselves: Who is Marianne Lane? Where is she at that moment in the movie, and how can we express that through clothes.’
As beautiful as the outfits are, the film’s location on a remote Italian island also adds to its visual appeal. It was an island that had a personal connection for Guadagnino.
‘The location was in my mind from the moment I thought of starting this film. I had been there as a kid. I wanted a place that was rough and was commanding the characters to be shaken by the otherness of the place. Pantelleria with its weather, its wind, heat and dust is a very challenging place. It’s also very beautiful.’
With many wonderful Dior designs featured throughout the film, a soundtrack that boasts the Rolling Stones, and bolstered by an immensely talented cast, this is a film that lingers long after the credits roll, which it seems was Guadagnino’s intention.
‘I think it’s important that you leave people to ponder, that you have the possibility as an audience to make your own conclusion as to what you come away with.’
There’s a lot to enjoy about this aesthetically alluring film, which offers a refreshing view of female desire and self-definition. If the Dior outfits don’t evoke envy, the island setting certainly will, and yet they remain secondary to the incredible performances of both Swinton and Fiennes.
A Bigger Splash is a sizzling independent film, which stays with you and indeed leaves you to ponder.
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Fanning
Release Date: March 24
Reviewer Rating: 4/5