A Bigger Splash is described as an erotic thriller. Erotic, yes, and voluptuous and edgy, but I would not call it a thriller. The film starts in almost silence, with pop star Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and her lover Paul, (Matthias Schoenaerts) holidaying on a remote Sicilian island, Pantelleria. The silence is quickly explained – Marianne is recovering from throat surgery and is not sure if she will ever sing again. Into their lives roars and bounces Marianne's former lover, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his sultry daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) and their peace is shattered. Marianne's problem (her voice) is obvious from the start but it gradually emerges that all four characters are somehow damaged. At first, the four of them co-exist relatively happily: Marianne enjoys having Harry around and Penelope seems to enjoy being with her well-connected father – only Paul is sorry about the change. Slowly, however, the sensual heat of the island and the simmering feelings on all sides spill out and over, at first lustfully and then dangerously.
The film's chief merit rests on the wonderfully capable shoulders of the four main characters. Tilda Swinton, a favourite of director Guadignino, manages to convey a broad spectrum of emotions without raising her voice above a whisper – her body says it all. Dakota Johnson's metamorphosis from leggy teenager to calculating witch is riveting. Matthias Schoenaerts broods uncomfortably through the film. Ralph Fiennes' performance is a tour de force: initially brash and over the top, (the dance scene is amazing) but scenes with Marianne reveal a different, more genuine side of him.
I think the weakness of the film is the use of flashbacks: the characters reveal enough of the past and what drives them through conversation and the occasional flashback does not add to the film. It is not a comfortable film to watch but it is beautifully made; lingering shots on the countryside and lingering shots on bodies (bodies, dressed and naked, are important). The brooding atmosphere and the performances of the actors make for a powerful film.