Review: 'A Bigger Splash' needs much context to be appreciated

Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in “A Bigger Splash.” (Shaw Organisation)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at The views expressed are his own.

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 124 minutes (~2 hours)

“A Bigger Splash” is an Italian-French erotic drama (with English dialogue) that’s inspired by the 1969 film, “La Piscine.” Marianne, a pop star who’s recovering from vocal surgery, goes on a holiday with her boyfriend Paul, only to find her old flame Harry is there with his daughter, Penelope. Tensions brew. It stars Tilda Swinton (Marianne Lane), Matthias Schoenaerts (Paul De Smedt), Ralph Fiennes (Harry Hawkes), and Dakota Johnson (Penelope Lanier). It is rated M-18.

It’s important to know the context behind “A Bigger Splash” and the original film, because it’s not a great film on its own (the score only takes into account the film itself, and not its source material). It might have been fairly meaningful if it were released a few decades ago, but such a film today doesn’t quite have the impact that it expects to garner. Nevertheless, the cast does turn in good performances, which is important for the dramatic tension in the movie.

Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Marianne (Tilda Swinton) in “A Bigger Splash.” (Shaw Organisation)


Ralph Fiennes is a hilarious Henry Hawkes

Henry is very entertaining, and one of the few larger than life characters where their flamboyance is actually warranted by their background. Despite being a sex-crazed old man, deep down he’s a lonely old codger, and manages to make you both amused and sympathetic. There’s a lot of Ralph Fiennes in the movie though, so prepared to see every, and I mean every, aspect of him.

Tilda Swinton handles a character with odd circumstances with aplomb

A pop singer who can’t speak (albeit temporarily) is one of the most contrived characters you’ll find in film, and perhaps one of the most bluntly ironic ones too. There’s already so much that disadvantages Tilda Swinton’s performance, yet she manages to play Marianna with so much charm that she almost convinces you of the hoarseness. Some of her gesticulation might be a little over the top, but on the whole, she’s a fully developed, critical character that just happens to be hampered from speaking properly.

Daddy and daughter in “A Bigger Splash.” (Shaw Organisation)


Abrupt changes in tone

The film goes from whimsical to depressing at the slightest provocation, giving you emotional whiplash with its rollercoaster treatment of emotional. Although the tone is always appropriate to the scene, the pacing is not, and barely gives you enough time to recover from the deeper scenes before tossing you on some sort of playful treatment of a morbid situation.

Strange music

Setting operatic music to frivolity is one of the most questionable decisions in the film — until you realise that it’s meant as a reference to its source. Unfortunately, you can’t take something like that for granted among the audience. The music itself must be able to add to the movie without having to rely on the viewer’s foreknowledge. Taken in this light, the music is one of the most incongruous aspects of an already incongruous movie.

Marianne Lane’s muteness is a gimmick rather than a necessity

Why does she have to be mute? Is there any more ham-fisted way of demonstrating irony than by taking away the voice of a person who’s known for their voice? Does it add to the story or characterisation to have her be mute? Is there even a moral to be had from this? Her muteness feels like a clunky addition that doesn’t serve a purpose, and is yet another questionable decision from the director.

Marianne Lane in “A Bigger Splash.” (Shaw Organisation)

“A Bigger Splash” is unable to stand on its own merits, and relies on a lot of historical knowledge for full appreciation and understanding.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? No.

Score: 3.0/5

“A Bigger Splash” opens in cinemas 31 March, 2016 (Thursday).