Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson join in the wicked love games

By Alynda Wheat
April 28, 2016 02:00 PM
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

There are snakes at the Italian villa where rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is recovering from surgery on her vocal chords. They slither onto the property, but are mostly harmless. Marianne’s boyfriend, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), just tosses them away. Soon, Marianne’s ex, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his newly discovered daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), also slip into the villa uninvited. One wonders if they’re as harmless as the snakes.

A Bigger Splash, from director Luca Guadigno, is one of those sexy European thrillers that lets us think we’re miles ahead of the characters, then delights in revealing just how little we really know. It’s smart and seductive, with just a hint of menace, as the characters prowl around each other. It’s also gorgeously shot, with Instagram-ready close-ups of delectable food and stylish clothes, reveling in a life that looks easy, but only from afar.

Tired and recuperating, Marianne is thrilled to be in Italy with her filmmaker boyfriend, Paul. She can’t speak much, so they hit the beach or stay huddled in their idyll, usually naked. Then Harry calls and says he’s crashing their party with a “surprise.” That surprise turns out to be Penelope, who just discovered her long-lost daddy a few years back. She’s 22, all girlish curiosity and sexual precocity.

As for Fiennes, we’ve never seen him like this before. His music producer Harry is a dervish, spinning from room to room, sucking up all available oxygen. He’s a hell of a party, until everyone realizes they can’t breathe. He annoys Paul, with whom he used to be friends, unnerves Marianne and seems to have an unsettling chemistry with Penelope. What’s going on under that roiling surface? And is he the only one with secrets? The mounting tension suggests not.

How this love quadrilateral sorts itself out is fascinating, but the film doesn’t end there. Splash has a coda that, at first, feels like the movie doesn’t know where or how to wrap things up, but then whips out new information that casts the sun-bleached drama in a whole new light. There aren’t that many smart movies made for adults these days, so take time to savor this one.