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 alco­holic 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.