But the reverie is shattered when old friend Harry (Ralph Fiennes) calls from a plane descending towards the island's airport. Moments later, Marianne and Paul collect him and the young woman (Dakota Johnson) accompanying him. Harry introduces her as Penelope, his long-lost daughter from an ancient affair.
Harry and Penelope's arrival marks the beginning of the end for Marianne and Paul's quiet getaway. The main tension revolves around the fact that Harry was once Marianne's lover. And Harry turns out to be an impolite house guest. If he's not naked and dive-bombing into the pool, he's inviting more guests to the house or he's trying to get Marianne to sing despite the fact she's under strict orders to not even talk. Soon the fact that Harry still has feelings for Marianne leads to an overriding tension.
At the same time, Penelope, supposedly 22 but looking younger, swans around the house looking coy, throwing glances at Paul. But Paul's devotion to Marianne seems unshakable, despite the attacks on it coming from multiple directions. So the pressure builds until the perfect holiday slowly descends into the one from hell.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino, and loosely based on the 1969 French film The Swimming Pool, A Bigger Splash is a stylish drama that has much to commend it. The film is beautifully shot, making spectacular use of the rugged landscapes of the Italian island. Abrupt cuts, sequences and camera angles also heighten interest.
The casting is another major highlight. The fact that Marianne can't talk beyond a hoarse whisper means Swinton has to go through her entire bag of tricks - and she does, masterfully. Ralph Fiennes is equally as splendid. His manic performance takes over the entire film. He is a constant whirlwind threatening to upset everything and everyone, and he's often righteously funny while he's at it. Dakota Johnson and Matthias Schoenaerts ably round out the unhappy holiday foursome.
A Bigger Splash doesn't get to the highest of heights. It is perhaps too long - more judicious editing could have easily seen some scenes deleted with no negative impact on the story. The film's ending (high farce) will not please everyone either. But its many charms more than make up for it. Here is moody and classy storytelling, well worth your time.