A Bigger Splash, in case you missed it.

A Bigger Splash.

A Bigger Splash (2015) is the fourth film from Luca Guadagnino, and the one he made before the much acclaimed Call Me By Your Name, which was nominated earlier this year for four Academy awards, and which I reviewed here.

Tilda Swinton plays Marianne, a Bowie-esque rock god who has decamped with her sculpted, documentary film maker man to the island of Pantelleria, one of the many stepping stones that link Africa to Europe in the southern Mediterranean.

Call Me By Your Name.

But the peace and quiet of their island idyll is shattered with the arrival of Harry, Marianne’s long-time partner and one-time producer, and the one who introduced her to her new beau. And on his arm he arrives with what seems to be his latest conquest, but what turns out to be his recently discovered teenage daughter.

That peace and quiet is considerably more fragile than first it appeared. Marianne is recovering from surgery on her throat, and must refrain from speaking, while her man is a recovering alcohol who one year earlier made an unsuccessful attempt at taking his own life. Harry meanwhile is, unsurprisingly, still in love with Marianne, and his daughter has arrived there with an agenda all of her own.

Dakota Johnson making a splash.

There’s a wonderful sense of menace and impending doom which contrasts gloriously with the warmth and colour of the landscape which provides the film with its lush backdrop. And the combination of untrammelled hedonism, base carnality and the kinds of primary colours that only the Mediterranean can produce, proves a heady mix. And yet.

As good as A Bigger Splash is, it’s not quite the definitive cinematic marker one was hoping for. Like I am Love (2009) before, and Call Me By Your Name (2017) after, it is ever so slightly too cool and aloof to really engage on an emotional level. It’s definitely the best of what Guadagnino has called his trilogy of desire, but desire is the one thing that’s missing from all three. Granted, there’s no shortage of idealized desire, of requited love, in Call Me By Your Name. But desire without pain is meaningless. If you want to witness true desire, watch Brief Encounter (1946).

David Lean’s peerless Brief Encounter.

The problem is I think that Guadagnino works exclusively as a director, and relies on others for his source material, and on scriptwriters to then write his scripts for him. This frees him up to explore the stylistic elements of his films, and there’s no question that A Bigger Splash looks magnificent. The film’s signature stamp are its many close ups of a face masked by mirrored sunglasses, which manage at once to be an enigmatic portrait of the protagonist on view, and an expansive establishing shot of the landscape reflected behind.

But it also means that he doesn’t pursue his chosen themes with the same kind of obsessiveness and purblind passion as does, say, Truffaut, Fellini, Antonioni or, most obviously, Bergman.

Fabulous Fiennes.

Still, what elevates A Bigger Splash and really brings it to life is the magnetic performance that Ralph Fiennes gives as Harry. You can’t take your eyes off of him. He is both the most obviously annoying and insufferably obnoxious character, who you just know will ruin everything, because he always ruins everything. And, the most impossibly charming individual you could ever hope to meet, and the one person who you know will make whatever the evening is a memorable one.

You can see the trailer of A Bigger Splash here.

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“We Need To Talk About Kevin” – Lynne Ramsay

Beyond the fact that the three greatest film makers in the world are David Lynch, David Lynch and David Lynch, the five or six serious film makers working in the medium today are Anh Hung Tran, Atom Egoyan, Julio Medem, Todd Solondz and Lynne Ramsay (but then what about Marco Bellocchio, or Scorsese…).

So the lukewarm response that the latest film from the latter evoked in Britain was surprising. Because We Need To Talk About Kevin is immaculate.

Ramsay made her debut in 1999 with Ratcatcher, an unusually lyrical and slightly detached look at growing up on a council estate. She followed that in 2002 with Morvern Callar, which was even more doggedly elliptical, and concentrated on evoking a mood and conjuring up an atmosphere rather than rigidly pursuing a narrative drive.

So few people familiar with her work can have been surprised at the way in which she approached adapting Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin. The slightly bigger budget and the presence of the relatively well-known Tilda Swinton and John C Reilly as the put-upon parents mean that it’s slightly more conventional than her two previous films. But it also provided her with the scaffolding on which to build an even more impressive construct that melds visual grandeur with sonic panache.

It’s hard to know what the critics in London had been expecting. Matthew Sweet managed to complain on the BBC’s Late Review that it added nothing to the horror genre. Well no. That’s because it’s not a horror film. While we’re on the subject, it’s pretty disappointing as bedroom farce as well.

Other critics complained about the heavy-handed symbolism. But it’s not symbolism that the film employs. Rather, there are a series of visual and sonic motifs that ripple and reverberate throughout the piece as a whole, and that reflect and connect the characters to their surroundings, sending currents and waves across the surface.

It’s not an enjoyable film, obviously, nor should it be. It acts instead as a companion piece to Gus Van Sant’s brilliant Elephant from 2003, which justly won that year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes. That explored the conventionally held view that the sort of kids who inexplicably open fire on their hapless classmates are completely normal. Kevin offers up the corollary to that. What if some kids are just bad (though the book it should be noted is more ambivalent of the question of blame.)?

Austere yet expansive, Seamus McGarvey’s pristine cinematography and Jonny Greenwood’s insidious score combine to produce a work of rare cinematic quality. And, like The Lives Of Others, it eventually offers relief from its unremitting oppression. As with its very last line and gesture, the faintest glimmer of hope is finally allowed to break through.

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