Ralph Fiennes cavorting to a Rolling Stones record may be the pinnacle of cinematic delight. If nothing else, A Bigger Splash would be worth seeing if only for this spectacle and Fiennes’s manic performance. The actor attacks the role of Harry Hawkes—an accomplished but aging music producer with a severe case of verbal diarrhea—with the same gusto he brought to The Grand Budapest Hotel, though in a much different register. Whether bragging about his contribution to a Stones track or introducing new party friends to the group, his energy level is at a constant high.

But Fiennes is hardly the only pleasure in Luca Guadagnino’s latest, a lively erotic drama that evokes French and Italian classics of the genre. Screenwriter David Kajganich explicitly reworks Jacques Deray’s 1969 film La Piscine with Alain Delon, but A Bigger Splash also brings to mind another Delon vehicle, René Clement’s Purple Noon, with its copious displays of beautiful sunbaked flesh and pervasive undercurrent of danger.

In Guadagnino’s last film, I Am Love, Tilda Swinton impressed by delivering all her lines in Italian; here, she makes just as strong an impact while barely speaking at all; her character, stadium-filling rock star Marianne Lane, is in recovery after losing her voice.

As the film opens, Marianne and her young paramour Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a former addict who has recently attempted suicide, are luxuriating on a tiny island near the Tunisian coast. Their romantic idyll is soon interrupted, however, by the arrival of Marianne’s former lover Harry (who introduced her to Paul) and his alluring adult daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), whom he only recently met. The intersection of these two pairs sets the stage for the drama that follows: Harry regrets giving Marianne away to Paul all those years ago and makes repeated advances toward her; meanwhile, Penelope contrives situations to get Paul alone, despite his clear devotion to Marianne.

It’s not an especially novel scenario, but the actors have a lot of fun with it, and the vibrant Mediterranean backdrop, itself almost a fifth character, enlivens a predictable arc. Swinton’s chemistry with Fiennes—the former wordless, the latter a debauched motor mouth—is particularly rich, conveying the casual familiarity of old lovers but stunted by Marianne’s conflicted refusal of Harry’s advances. Harry’s relationship with Penelope is also fraught with complications made clear during an uncomfortably intimate karaoke duet.

As in I Am Love, Guadagnino fumbles near the end, when things really start to happen. There’s a half-hearted attempt at social commentary when the film acknowledges the island’s role as a gateway for migrants from northern Africa, but this feels tacked on. Still, the film’s vitality and spontaneity keep it engaging even when the dynamic visual choices seem arbitrary. Guadagnino has yet to prove himself the equal of the today’s finest Italian directors (Paolo Sorrentino and Matteo Garrone among them), but his energy makes him worth following.

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