Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) is the kind of guy who gives a bad name to joie de vivre. The ultimate disrupter, his gift is to seize all the attention, change any social situation into a party and take everyone else out of their comfort zones. In A Bigger Splash, he inflicts himself on his former rock star lover Marianne (Tilda Swinton), who is trying to enjoy a quiet romantic respite with her current lover Paul (Matthias Shoenaerts) on the secluded Italian island of Pantelleria. Enter Harry, exit solitude.
With only five minutes notice, Harry shows up, expecting to become a houseguest in Marianne and Paul’s borrowed villa. To make matters worse, Harry brings along his newly discovered daughter (Dakota Johnson), a highly sexual nymphet with eyes for Paul. And, and the first day, he invites two of his other friends to join them. Harry repeatedly tears off his clothes, starts everyone dancing (one of his dances is right up there in cinema history with the one in Napoleon Dynamite) and even turns a village cafe into an overflowing karaoke after-party. Because Marianne is recuperating from vocal cord surgery, she can’t talk, which makes Harry’s social intrusions even more unbearable.
Harry’s antics are very entertaining, and we watch with apprehension for the other shoe to drop – when are the others going to explode in reaction? Harry is also trying to insinuate himself back into Marianne’s bed, an intention apparent to the hunky/dreamy Paul, for whom still waters run deep.
This is Guadagnino’s first English language movie. He had a recent US art house hit with I Am Love, (also starring Swinton). I Am Love was notorious for its food porn, and there are tantalizing scenes in A Bigger Splash, too, with homemade fresh ricotta and a spectacular outdoor restaurant set amid hillside ruins.
Guadagnino’s greatest gift may be the sensuality of his films. Whether it’s food, a place or a social situation, he makes the audience feel like we’re experiencing it right along with the character. In A Bigger Splash, we start out as tourists in a hideout for the super rich, and then Guadagnino takes to us through a raucous comedy of manners to, finally, a suspense thriller.