A Bigger SplashPrint
By Thomas Chatterton Williams
July 6, 2016
In London this past winter, I had the chance to catch Luca Guadagnino’s sexy, sunny, and vaguely menacing new film, A Bigger Splash, a gorgeous Italian update on Jacques Deray’s French classic La Piscine (The Swimming Pool). Guadagnino has tweaked the original just enough to feel worth it—and shifted, agreeably, the action from the trampled Côte d’Azur to the pristine island of Pantelleria. The plot still pleases: an amorous couple using a friend’s exquisite-but-still-homey villa for a holiday idyll is disrupted when an old friend arrives along with his jailbait teenage daughter (a striking Jane Birkin in the original; a positively criminal Dakota Johnson in this one). Matthias Schoenaerts and Tilda Swinton in an earthier way do Alain Delon and Romy Schneider cinematic justice. And Ralph Fiennes delivers a manic performance that has no precedent in the earlier version. Whether you have or haven’t seen La Piscine, it’s newer incarnation makes for an enjoyable way to spend two hours.
But what was shrewd and surprising, at least to me—and I’m still not sure if it ultimately failed or succeeded—was the entirely current (and politically conscious) insertion of undocumented migrants hovering in the background amidst all the splendor (or, if you will, “first-world problems”), emerging like moving scenery out of nowhere. Like Camus’s voiceless Arabs in The Stranger, these men—they are all men—are not granted perspectives, and we draw our own conclusions about what that means. (One highly ambiguous scene in particular has stayed with me in light of the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, Germany.)
Yet it is not a gratuitous or an uncompassionate inclusion, and ultimately A Bigger Splash brings to mind another familiar story of a couple interrupted: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy,” Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby. “They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” Or that is how I remember it; I’m going to have to see it again here in Paris.
[A Bigger Splash was released in the United States on May 13.]
Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.
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