Mick Jagger wails in falsetto on “Emotional Rescue,” a disco-influenced tune released around the commercial peak of the Rolling Stones in 1979. The electric piano and synthesizers swirl into what’s considered a standout track from their album of the same name, even being commemorated on the official The Best of Rolling Stones compilation. However, the song is most notable for being the docking point of the burgeoning rift between Jagger and Keith Richards, as each band member wanted their own rockist vs. popist direction for the Stones.
It’s not easy to conclude all that subtext under the seductive, ageless sound of “Emotional Rescue,” and Italian director Luca Guadagnino employs much of the same camouflage in A Bigger Splash. Set in the stunning scenery of Pantelleria, Bowie-like rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) and muscular, younger boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) rest and recover from Marianne’s recent vocal surgery in muted bliss. They tan in the nude by a spectacularly blue swimming pool placed on top of the gorgeous rocky landscape after countless mud baths that promptly turn sexual, day after day.
Their steady lives are quickly interrupted by Marianne’s ex-lover and former producer flying in with his supposedly formerly estranged 22-year-old daughter and no hotel preparations, and the combined four of them twist this once tranquil setting into one torn by emotional drama. Harry (Ralph Fiennes) is a restless and experienced spirit, his energy carried by Fiennes’ unfettered performance. Flashbacks to Harry and Marianne’s 80s rockstar escapades, soundtracked by glam pop and dusted with cocaine, peep from the cracks of their now weathered relationship, and it becomes evident from the beginning that Harry’s skittish self is here for a reason.
Though it’s eventual melodrama is unmistakable from the start, A Bigger Splash serves as a treat for the visual and theatrical senses, as Fiennes and Swinton put on astonishing performances for two seemedly opposite people. Swinton sways in her nostalgic resort wardrobe by Dior, expressively gesturing her wants and needs with an elegance that makes you almost forget she’s an otherworldly rock star. She speaks in a hoarse whisper when really required to, even lets us experience her experiencing a silent orgasm while standing up, and her weightless performance becomes a heavy one as her facial expressions and miming express her agony so fervently.
Meanwhile, Fiennes’ Harry is rushing in and out of the frame like a jazzy spirit, gutting out fresh fish his first morning there and drunkenly boasting a karaoke of Deep Fish’s “Direction NYC” that same night. Previously a producer for the Rolling Stones, he spins “Emotional Rescue” on the house turntable and shows off his moves like Jagger in a particularly memorable sequence for it’s juxtaposing entertainment and uncomfort. He wails that opening line to Marianne as her boyfriend awkwardly sits next to her, and the increasing tension between the two former lovers becomes soap-opera addicting until it bubbles over like Mediterranean champagne.
The juicy stories of past suicide attempts and slender, oiled bodies pasted against the Italian island’s natural beauty make A Bigger Splash a worth-it watch. Unlike 2015’s The Second Mother, a Brazilian film that overdid the melodrama but perfectly delivered the socioeconomic strife of modern Brazil, A Bigger Splash serves up some amusing scenes that get clumsily interrupted by Guadagnino’s half-baked political messages. He tries to make a white people vs. the world conversation with his wealthy main characters virtually ignoring the Italian residents around them, and frequently shows the Tunisian refugees that have started to arrive for sanctuary on the sidelines, but makes no legitimate point with either of these being included. Swinton’s tall and all-white designer attire is enough to make her stand out from the faded rags surrounding her, enough of a statement for a movie that should’ve kept all it’s focus on the emotional chess that it’s best at.
The final act churns into ambiguous anticlimax, but never hesitates to remain pleasing on the eyes. We are served freshly made ricotta with daiquiris cliffside and tabletop candle lighting, all the while seeing who’s gonna fuck who next. A Bigger Splash is never gaudy in its unraveling, instead consistently excelling at it’s meta-escapism. With cinematography that stuns at every corner in both technique and visuals, Yorick Le Saux (Clouds of Sils-Maria, Only Lovers Left Alive) and Guadagnino mask their characters’ intentions and emotions with beautiful mastery, much like the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue.” What most interests me about A Bigger Splash is finally seeing what Guadagnino can do, seeing as to how he’s scheduled to make a Suspiria remake in the next few years. Here’s to hoping his sensual awareness translates well to unnerving horror.. *nervous laughter*
Grade : B