A BIGGER SPLASH (2015/16)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Fox Searchlight, 124 minutes, R (extensive nudity, drug use, language)
Here's an early candidate for the worst film of 2016. A Bigger Splash is one of those pan-Euro productions—Italian/French/English in this case. These projects sometimes produce rich cross-cultural fertilization. This one, though, is more like dumping ideas into a compost pile until they rot.
The first bad idea was to try to update a masterpiece: Jacques Desay's 1969 La Piscine—right down to borrowing the names of a few characters. Clang! La Piscine was art; A Bigger Splash is schlock. Bad idea number two: Romy Schneider was perfectly cast as the lead, Marianne, in Desay's film; Tilda Swinton is miscast in Guadagnino's. Number three: Desay handed the role of Lolita-like Penelope Lanier to Jane Birkin; Guadagnino cast Dakota Johnson; any resemblance between the magnificent Ms. Birkin and the pouty, slutty Johnson is purely coincidental. (Note to Guadagnino: Even a testosterone-driven horn dog would run the other way from a tease as vacuous as Johnson's Penelope.)
Bt wait! It gets worse. If embarrassment were rated, this film would get an NC-17 for Fiennes' horrifying dance chops. And if overacting were added, IDs would be checked at the door. The hook of the update is that Marianne Lane is a famous rock and roll idol, who jets off to a Sicilian island with her boyfriend, Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts), where both of have gone to recover from previous addictions and she to recuperate from severe laryngitis. (Swinton is silent through most of the film, which I'd like to think she insisted upon when she read the script.) There the two enjoy wild sex, solitude, and tranquility in what is supposed to be their secret location. Somehow—and it's never explained how–her manager and former lover, Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), locates them and decides to descend upon them. In tow is his resentful daughter, Penelope, and two of the many hangers-on party animal/egotist supreme Harry keeps at his side to remind him of what a big deal he used to be: the limping, older Mirielle (Aurore Clément) and Sylvie (Lily McMenamy), the latter cast mainly because she looks spectacular in and out of a skimpy bikini. But is it Marianne for whom Harry really carries the torch? In case you haven't gotten the point, at one point Paul removes a large snake from the premises—a serpent in the Garden metaphor for those who fell asleep and didn't see all of the warning signs that this won't end well.
As Harry brags his way through tales of hanging out with The Rolling Stones and other clues drop, we realize that, though Swinton looks more like David Bowie and flashbacks suggest some Patti Smith attitude, the film is a thinly gauzed reworking of Marianne Faithfull's biography. No spoiler alert from me–I walked out after an hour, having sifted more than my share of the compost. A friend who stayed said it devolved into a murder mystery, so I suppose that's the Desay bottom of the pile. Here's what's good about the film: the gorgeous cinematography of Yorrick Le Saux and even then there's a catch. I mean, if you can't make southern Italy look sensual, you might be dead.
English: Putrid. French: putride. Italian: putrido. You're welcome. Now you can give a reason in three different languages why you should avoid this film.