Monday, May 23, 2016

The sanctioning of immorality

A friend, after watching Luca Guadagnini’s A Bigger Splash (at the Landmark Main), said, “What was the point?” Well, the point is what was on the screen. It was the story itself. But her point was made. The expectation with this film is that it would somehow be deeper or more multi-layered than what it actually is. Instead, what we get is a very straightforward picture, inspired by Jacques Deray’s 1969 film La Piscine (The Swimming Pool). Don’t get me wrong. This is a very good movie. The acting is terrific and the story and plot events are absorbing. But it is in the end nothing but a crime story. Tilda Swinton as Marianne Lane is a famous rock star sidelined by a throat operation. She retreats to an Italian island with lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). They are thoroughly enjoying the hedonistic contentment of their sun splashed idyll when, out of the blue, music producer Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), with daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in toe, show up, quite uninvited. This throws off Marianne and Paul’s vacation but Hawkes is no stranger to them (he used to be Marianne’s lover) and so is minimally tolerated if not variously embraced. But Paul remains skeptical, and sees a ploy by Harry to ingratiate himself back with Marianne. Not that Paul himself doesn’t have thoughts about the supposed 22-year-old Penelope, who proves to be younger. The days pass among this foursome of the idyll bohemian rich. It turns out Harry has produced hits for The Rolling Stones. He’s of a type: the frenetic braggadocio music industry exec. Paul, a brilliant filmmaker, is passive and withdrawn. Penelope is cunning and Marianne is simply knowing and observant, and can hardly speak anyway. The group eats, swims, and takes day trips together including into the nearby town’s annual carnival, where Paul and Penelope beguile (there are hints of a sexual relationship since she is not his birth daughter) the locals in a karaoke duet at a local bar. The competition between Harry and Paul ramps up. Fiennes is in a role probably like you’ve never seen him, playing an A-type personality who overwhelms everyone around him. The best aspects of the film, which has got superlative reviews, are the acting and plot pacing. It’s like you're there with the characters on the Mediterranean Sea and enjoying the indulgent ride among the flora and fauna, switchback roads and sublime gastronomy. And for the most part, some prickly comments aside, this group is fun to be with. So what is the point of the picture? Is there any moral message - such as, is hedonism an end in itself, does immorality get rewarded? Hard to say. All we know is that our characters, somewhere along the way, have jumped an ethical barrier.

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