Between Tunisia and Sicily, the Italian volcanic island of Pantelleria is the setting of A BIGGER SPLASH: A house, four people and a load of emotional conflict. Pantelleria is a 15km long former penal colony with sulfuric mud baths, beautiful rock pools, Giorgio Armani’s holiday house and thousands of stranded North African refugees attempting to make it to Europe. It is politically Italian and geographically African.
Famous rock musician Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton, channelling Bowie in full makeup) and her younger photographer partner Paul (Mathieu Schoenaerts) are living an idyllic life in a borrowed house, while she silently recovers from debilitating throat surgery. Reading, rest, sunbathing, swimming, sex, repeat.
Loquacious music-producer Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) surprisingly turns up to this remote place with his newly discovered daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), an enigmatic provocateur seemingly trying on her newly-discovered Dad’s style for size. Harry is the type of character that nobody can resist – talks to everyone, smiles widely and has no inhibitions. Ambiguous relationships between each character are slowly revealed, creating a slow-burn tension.
Director Luca Guadagnino has collaborated with Tilda Swinton for the past 25 years, with their most prominent films together being LOVE FACTORY & I AM LOVE. Producers Studio Canal approached Guadagnino with the idea to reinterpret Jacques Deray’s 1969 classic, La Piscine. Initially underwhelmed, he approached writer David Kajganich (BLOOD CREEK & TRUE STORY) and they collaborated on a subversive alternative to the original, keeping the names of the original characters as well as the basic plot.
Marianne’s enforced silence was Swinton’s suggestion, and despite a necessary reworking of the script, Kajganich exploited the opportunity: “When you’re writing, you’re always looking for a way to maximise the dramatic potential of a scene without text. If you can find ways for people to explore what they want or try to get what they want without just talking about it, it is really helpful”.
Swinton says her motivation came from a real need to stop talking: “At a moment in my own life when I was all out of words, I proposed the idea of this woman unable to speak into the established story of ancient histories and new lives thrown into relief by one another. Not only as a twist to ramp up the tensions between the characters, but also as a way of exploring the possibilities of silence in a portrait of a character surrounded by the noise of others and the legacy of the noise she had herself made in the past.”
Someone does eventually vanish and we are left to speculate on the inside stories of each character. The film is an excellent introspective trip with a heightened aesthetic. I bet you will desperately or curiously read the credits in search of the name of the designer who created every beautiful thing that Tilda Swinton wore…It was Raf Simons for Dior.
Four versions of swimming pool have been made, some inspired by Alain Page’s novel of the same name. For some warm summer evening viewing, here are three more:
Jacques Deray’s original film LA PISCINE (1969) with Alain Delon, Romy Schneider and Jane Birkin gravitating around the pool in St Tropez. Two versions were made in French and English, with the English version having a slightly different ending, so take your pick.
Indian director J. Sasikumar made the Malayalam-language version SWIMMING POOL (1976). No synopsis exists so if any watches it, let me know.
French director Francois Ozon’s SWIMMING POOL (2003) has crime writer Charlotte Rampling seeking solitude in her agent’s holiday house with the inevitable pool in the south of France. Her agent’s daughter (Ludivine Sagnier) turns up, bringing complications and the inevitable crime.
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