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A BIGGER SPLASH. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, with Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes.

REVIEW: Deborah Young

CONTINUING to experiment with extreme emotional choices motivated by sexual desire, director Luca Guadagnino follows up his critically acclaimed I Am Love with a far less satisfying study of seduction and destruction.

This remake of Jacques Deray’s cult 1969 film La Piscine vaunts an equally cool and desirable cast (Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson) and an updated role for the female lead, who is now a very proactive rock star. But the film feels empty and intellectualised at the core, where it should feel powerfully emotional. Sophisticated shooting, abundant nudity and Johnson’s presence in the naughty nymphet role should generate initial box office, but it’s a far cry from, say, the realm of Only Lovers Left Alive.

But the world belongs to the beautiful people. Marianne Lane (Swinton), first glimpsed in a sequined Ziggy Stardust outfit receiving the adulation of a stadium full of fans, is taking time out with her partner Paul (Schoenaerts) while her voice heals after an operation. It’s imperative that she not speak above a whisper or she could lose her singing voice forever. Despite her minimum dialogue, Swinton’s sunny intelligence makes words superfluous, as she communicates with gestures and a few husky remarks.

Her idyll with Paul is brusquely interrupted by the intrusion of her exuberant record producer and ex-lover, Harry (Fiennes), who arrives unannounced with his jail-bait Lolita of a daughter, Penny (Johnson). Fiennes brings a manic intensity to the role that is as amusing for the audience as it is grating for Paul. Their relationship is even more complicated by the fact that Harry introduced Marianne to Paul, practically passing her on to the younger man, when he felt their affair was over. It isn’t.

Harry’s verve for living puts Paul on the defensive, and the normally reliable Schoenaerts struggles to catch up and make his mark.

Then there is the complication of Penny, who parades around the house in micro-clothes and comes on strong to Paul, when she’s not cuddling her father. She’s not 100 percent convinced he’s her real dad, anyway. Though she announces she’s 22, her long bleached blond hair, childlike body and bratty personality belie it. Like Harry, Penny is a character you love to hate. Both are blessed with some very good lines, and their catty remarks aim straight at the stability of the “conservative” couple. It’s all pretty much good fun up to here. Between exploring the island and slumming it around the big local feast of St. Gaetano, the quartet manoeuvres for emotional ground.

When Paul takes Penny on a long hike to a deserted bay, and the southern wind rises, one can feel the power of the landscape to blow away lies and hypocrisy, much like the elements in Roberto Rossellini’s classic study of a married couple, Journey to Italy. But as the dramatic denouement approaches, the emotional climax is slow in coming, and the film ends on a bizarre and unsatisfying note of farce. – Reuters/ Hollywood Reporter