Blu-ray Review: A Bigger Splash

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Director Luca Guadagnino's A Bigger Splash is not, as the title might initially suggest, a long-overdue sequel to Ron Howard's 1984 mermaid comedy. Instead, its a subtext-drenched character study about rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) who's on holiday in Italy following vocal cord surgery. Marianne (a character, by the way, with no real-life counterpart—though, as embodied by the lithe Swinton, she brings to mind a female version of David Bowie) can speak only in the quietest whisper. Only her longtime boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) knows she can communicate verbally at all—to the rest of the world, she's on total vocal rest until recovery is complete.

Yes, it's a movie about a rock singer who we barely ever hear sing (via flashback we see her take the stage wearing glam rock-type outfits; her voice is heard only in a similarly non-linear studio session scene). However, Marianne's near-muteness is a fitting metaphor for a film more focused on what is not said than what is. No sooner have Marianne and Paul settled in for relaxation at their idyllic island villa then a reminder of Marianne's more reckless past comes crashing in. Record producer Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), Marianne's former lover, forces himself into what was intended to be a quiet, meditative getaway. Both Marianne and Paul are well aware of Harry's outsized personality. What they're less prepared for is that he has an adult daughter in tow, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), who seems by turns bored, conniving, and wounded. 

bigger splash dakota johnson.jpg Not much actually happens throughout A Bigger Splash's two hours, but Guadagnino (working from a screenplay by David Kajganich, based on the 1969 film La Piscine—which I've not seen and therefore have no comparisons to make) laces his quartet of leads with intrigue. Marianne and Paul openly wonder if Harry's interests in Penelope are not strictly paternal. Meanwhile, Harry's presence stirs long-dormant feelings within Marianne. She's clearly not over their relationship, which was clearly a very prominent part of her life. Harry considers Paul a "square," and he's not above brazen flirtation directly in front of him.

In such a leisurely-paced, non-plot driven film, strong acting is the film's greatest hook. No one is better here than Fiennes, whose flashy, zestful performance is certainly worthy of major awards consideration. In Fiennes' hands, Harry is a perfectly-realized vision of middle-aged hedonism. Harry doesn't see any apparent reason to slow his pace of sexual and pharmaceutical consumption, constantly attempting to woo anything within his reach, regaling anyone who'll listen with old stories such as his minor contribution to a 20-plus-year-old Rolling Stones album. 
 
bigger splash tilda swinton.jpg If any of this seems enticing, by all means seek out A Bigger Splash (a film largely ignored during its brief theatrical run). There is actually more to the "plot," such as it is, but it involves elements that would be inappropriate to discuss even with "spoiler alerts." The tangled relationships lead to a third act development that is, in some ways, very conventional—yet, even then, it's a turn of events laced with multiple layers of mystery. We learn something new about each character, even if we're not entirely sure of what these "new" characteristics actually mean. Guadagnino isn't afraid of leaving things open to interpretation, which is what makes A Bigger Splash so ultimately captivating.

Fox Home Entertainment's Blu-ray offers a beautiful high-def presentation of Yorick Le Saux's mostly-35mm cinematography. The shot-on-location Italian visuals are frequently stunning, making this a film that demands to be seen in 1080p. Also terrific is the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix. Music cues sound great, with Guadagnino daring to use Harry Nillson's "Jump Into the Fire" (a song so perfectly utilized by Scorsese in Goodfellas, I never thought it'd work in another context). Also, The Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue" has never sounded sexier.

Do not turn to the Blu-ray for deep insights into director Luca Guadagnino or screenwriter David Kajganich's methods. The bonus features are limited to a series of eight "promotional featurettes" (fluffy, glorified trailers that range from 30 seconds to two minutes each) and a gallery of still images.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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