-A wonderfully sexy sea-isle drama and a comedic period-piece worth multiple viewings.

Tilda Swinton has made a career out of playing pretty much anything, anywhere, anyhow. In a timely portrayal of a world famous glam-rocker Marianne Lane, Swinton has channeled a very special kind of energy in Luca Guadagnino’s new psychological thriller A Bigger Splash, a film about temptation, old flames, and new challenges. Rather than focusing on the massive personality of Swinton’s character, she instead dials it back, as Marianne recovers from throat surgery on the remote Italian Isle of Pantelleria.

Marianne must be almost entirely quiet, as she relaxes in the fresh air, eating exquisite, experimental food and shacking up with her new beau, Paul (Matthias Schoenarts), a photographer who she’s had a long-standing relationship with. Paul is a silent, complicated fellow, often going through bouts of depression, but ultimately caring for Marianne over anything else. Their relationship is going quite well until Marianne’s old flame and record producer Harry Hawkins (Ralph Fiennes) shows up at their vacation home with his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), whom he has just learned about. Penelope relishes the vacation and silently fits in with the brooding main couple, but Harry’s boastfulness and incessant chatter have changed their vacation for good, but to what extent? We get twists and turns in a most peculiar four-some of a love story.

Each individual character is developed with a really powerful swell of subtext and backstory. Each of the four live very individually in this film, floating in and out of conversations or events with another of the group with ease, always on the move for how each character is reacting to new events. Harry’s jealousness of his former friend Paul is something, where Fiennes puts on one of the strongest personalities that he’s ever played in film, shooting out fast-paced lines like an explosion of pseudo-sophisticated chatting. He’s intensely insane in this role, and his expansion as an actor has been fun to watch over the last few years. It seems that no one can steal his thunder in the movie, despite Schoenarts’s quiet attractiveness or Swinton’s alien-like calm, until we get to know more about the constantly plotting Penelope, a sexy femme fatale that came to the island only for seduction and her own amusement. Dakota Johnson does an amazing job, again, in this film, as we get to see her take control of her own persona, and boy do people pay the consequences. Her villainous tempting of Paul is enough to make any man watching this movie just a bit more attentive. She nails the feel of her character that the movie wants her to have, and again, she proves that she’s going to have a big career in this industry once she’s out of the Fifty Shades shadow.

Overall, Guadagnino’s rendering of the setting and pushing of these character relationships work for this movie until the bitter end, and it’s one of the best of the year so far.

4 stars

 

A Bigger Splash (2016)

Genre: Drama (Also: Romance, Thriller)

Director: Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love)

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenarts, and Dakota Johnson

RT Score: 88%

 


The other indie film to watch out for that’s currently in theaters is Love & Friendship, a comedic take on a Jane Austen novella that puts Kate Beckinsale back in the scene. Usually, I’m not one to recommend British period pieces, as they often come off as dry and unforgiving as the books that they’re made from, but this Whit Stillman adaptation comes from a place of satire and energy, and it’s extremely lively. Worth a few laughs and a possibly a few viewings, Love & Friendship deserves every ounce of acclaim that it’s receiving.

We open up with the recently widowed Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale), who is embarking on a few weeks stay at her sister-in-law’s (Emma Greenwell) house with her husband (Justin Edwards). Also staying there is the sister-in-law’s brother, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), unrelated to Lady Susan, but who catches her eye. Knowing that she must find a way to remarry back into wealth, she begins planting seeds with DeCourcy, while also trying to repair a tarnished image as a rather free-floating woman in the community. Aiding her in her malicious takeover of this family is her best friend Alicia (Chloe Sevigny) who is also tied down by a wealthy man (Stephen Fry), living the sophisticated lifestyle and rooting for Lady Susan to enter back into it. If Reginald doesn’t work out, Lady Susan can always continue her wooing of local business-owner Lord Manwaring, much to the dismay of his awful wife Lucy (Jenn Murray).

Lady Susan’s daughter Frederica, a free spirit in her own right, is struggling at school, so Lady Susan is trying to marry her off to the local rich, but completely dimwitted bachelor Lord Martin (Tom Bennett), deepening the chasm between mother and daughter.

This piece is entirely about relationships and a satire of the perfectly pristine culture of that time. Seeing a character who is more conniving and less lady-like for the time period is refreshing, amusing, and often quite interesting, seeing how she handles herself. In a year that’s been slow for great acting performances so far, this movie is filled with them, with Beckinsale as a strong lead, Sevigny as a strong support, and Bennett as a hilariously good support as well. Surprisingly underrated is Xavier Samuel, who you may recognize as the villain in Twilight: Eclipse or in bit parts in blockbuster movies Fury and Anonymous. This will be his most notable role to date, and could be a break-out for him.

The costumes are great, the style is great, and it’s overall a modern injection of life into a tired TCM universe. Maybe Jane Austen isn’t so bad.

 

4 stars

 

Love & Friendship (2016)

Genre: Comedy

Director: Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco, Damsels in Distress)

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, and Tom Bennett

with: Morfyyd Clark, Stephen Fry, James Fleet, Jemma Redgrave, Justin Edwards, and Jean Murray

 

RT Score: 99%

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