Ralph Fiennes makes A Bigger Splash with gusto

Ralph Fiennes steals the show in A Bigger Splash, despite Tilda Swintons fine performanceRalph Fiennes steals the show in A Bigger Splash, despite Tilda Swintons fine performance
Ralph Fiennes steals the show in A Bigger Splash, despite Tilda Swintons fine performance
SIX years after debuting his internationally-acclaimed drama I Am Love at the Venice Film Festival, Italian film-maker Luca Guadagnino returned to the Lido with his highly-anticipated follow-up, A Bigger Splash (****). The film is a loose reworking of Jacques Deray’s 1969 drama La Piscine, and reunites the director with his I Am Love star, Tilda Swinton, for a sumptuous, sexy and unpredictable tale of psychological and emotional warfare among a group of holidaymakers on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria.

Swinton plays Marianne, a rock star on vocal rest, whose Edenic retreat with her lover, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), is disrupted by the arrival of her record producer and former beau, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), and his Lolita-like daughter, Penelope (Fifty Shades of Grey’s Dakota Johnson). In no time at all it becomes clear that Harry, an excruciatingly extrovert and garrulous show-off, has designs on his old flame, while his flirtatious daughter has her own agenda.

Full of sex, nudity, lip-smacking food and ravishing island scenery, the film is a treat for the senses. Swinton is a commanding presence, despite not speaking for much of the movie, and Johnson, as a young woman with more to her than meets the eye, radiates sex appeal. A Bigger Splash is Fiennes’ movie, however. Never looser of more uninhibited, he throws himself into Harry with almost reckless gusto. When he dances to the Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescue, complete with slinky Jagger moves, it is one of the film’s highlights. And when he disappears late in the story, he leaves a big hole.

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Guadagnino’s decision to end A Bigger Splash on a note of farce is a misstep. By then, though, he and his cast have amassed so much good will that it is easy to forgive the movie’s flaws.

Truth, trauma and identity are recurring themes in the films of Atom Egoyan, so it is no surprise to find him returning to them in Remember (***). Which is not to say that the film itself is not surprising. An offbeat Hitchcockian thriller infused with dark humour, it showcases a nuanced performance by Christopher Plummer as Zev, a Holocaust survivor suffering from dementia, who leaves the safety of his nursing home to complete a mission he vowed he would undertake after his wife’s death: to find the former Auschwitz block commander – who evaded punishment by pretending to be a Jew and is now living in America – responsible for the murder of his family. Plummer is touching, and Egoyan expertly milks an encounter between Zev and the son of a dead Nazi sympathiser (a frightening cameo by Under the Dome’s Dean Norris) for every last drop of tension. The last-minute twist is pure chutzpah and will make viewers reassess everything they have seen. However, some may also find that it leaves a bad taste in their mouths.

Seven years after making his directorial debut with Synechdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman has returned with a stop-motion animated feature called Anomalisa (****). Co-directed by Duke Johnson, the film was adapted by Kaufman from his own “sound play” and features the voices of original cast members Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh and David Thewlis. The latter plays Michael Stone, a well-known inspirational speaker who lands in Cincinnati to deliver a speech about customer service. At his hotel, he has a disastrous encounter with an ex, and a tender one-night stand with a talkative telesales agent, Lisa (Jason Leigh), who has come to hear him speak.

Michael and Lisa are so life-like in their movements and facial expressions –when they undress, their finely detailed bodies look like moving Ron Mueck sculptures – that you forget you are watching puppets. And this is no children’s film: it deals with big themes like love and alienation, while Kaufman’s fruity dialogue and the characters’ surprisingly erotic lovemaking are not things you’re ever likely to see in a Nick Park production. Anomalisa has been a long time coming, but this funny, rude, moving gem was worth the wait.

Twenty years ago, a window for peace between Israel and Palestine suddenly slammed shut when prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Jewish ultra-nationalist Yigal Amir, as he left a rally in support of the Oslo Accords. Now, in Rabin, the Last Day (****), Israeli film-maker Amos Gitai uses archive footage, dramatic reconstruction, TV news reports, and interviews to dissect events.

He recreates the official commission set up to search for operational errors, but also goes outside its limited mandate to look at the incitement by religious and political leaders, including Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, which helped to create a culture of hatred surrounding Rabin.

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The film is gripping, chilling and, given what might have been, depressing. Gitai calls it the “real commission” and has said he hopes that Netanyahu will watch it. The chances of that are probably slim.

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