World-famous rock star Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is recovering from throat surgery on a small Italian island with her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) when onto the island and into their lives bursts her former producer and beau Harry (Ralph Fiennes) with his recently discovered daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Trapped together in a luxurious villa the scene is set for jealousy, sex, and resentment as tensions of all kinds brew between a quartet of troubled characters; a ticking time bomb of hormones simmering in the heat.
Swinton is a chameleon as an actor and it is always a surprise to see what kind of character she will be playing. In A Bigger Splash Swinton plays it incredibly low-key as she tackles the role of a mostly mute singer who quietly oozes cool and sexuality. Swinton playing a more reserved character allows for Ralph Fiennes to go large as her bombastic ex. Rather than be cool and subtly sexual Fiennes is giving it his all, shouting from the rooftops and blasting sexual energy towards anyone foolish enough to cross his path. Before Fiennes arrives everything is serene but once he enters the film all is noise and energy. Fiennes is pure dad dancing, pelvis grinding, obnoxious energy and has never been better. He blasts into the calm poolside living with an unsettling jolt last seen produced by Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. What a great double bill those films would make.
Completing the quartet are Dakota Johnson as Harry’s daughter and Matthias Schoenaerts as Marianne’s partner and Harry’s former bestie. Both are more difficult to read that their counterparts as they observe the actions of others and quietly plot away in their heads. Johnson gives an infinitely more complex performance that Fifty Shades allowed and a sexier one too. I realise I’ve mentioned sex in every other sentence in this review but it runs at the heart of the film. While the actual sex in the film is minimal it is sex that drives every character’s motivations. It is what they are pursuing, resenting, or trying to avoid.
Luca Guadagnino’s direction gives us a film that is positively humming with energy. To watch the film is to have your pace racing. His camera moves around with great inventiveness and the music is at times playful and others timeless. Most importantly he has made a film that is a complete joy to watch. He has dialled up Fiennes to 11 and it is this performance that makes or break the film. Watching A Bigger Splash was pure enjoyment and admiration; a fine two hours spent in the dark of the cinema.
A Bigger Splash is a big, bold, brash, funny and shocking drama.
A Bigger Splash screens at the festival on the 9th and 12th and tickets are still available online.
We’ve all seen films like Trumbo a dozen times. Glossy Hollywood films about America’s past that talk of some shameful part of their history but do so in a way that is very clean and safe. These are films that are good but not great. These films give actors scenery to chew but give the audiences nothing to remember by the end. Trumbo opens as Suffragette does; with white text on a black background setting the scene and with slow fades in between. The subtext here is that what you are watching is important and so should be instantly respected and eventually rewarded with golden statues come awards season.
Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is a screenwriter and a communist at a time in America when being a communist would soon get you called in front of congress and banned from working for any major studio. Trumbo was, so we are told, the greatest screenwriter of his generation. The film covers decades of Trumbo’s life as he goes from his career peak to being put on the Hollywood blacklist and then fighting to continue writing to support his family and show that without the communists there would be no screenplays.
This is not the proudest chapter in America’s story so it at first glance seems like a brave and worthwhile film to make. Sadly the film that has been produced is simultaneously theatrical and mundane. That’s not to say it hasn’t been made without skill. Every set and costume is made to exacting period detail and every scene is littered with witty one liners and the best in supporting character actors. John Goodman, Alan Tudyk, and Louis C.K. are particularly enjoyable but eventually the short functional scenes in which someone delivers some exposition and another counters with a quip become tiresome. Elle Fanning is particularly good as Trumbo’s daughter as she brings probably the only human element to the film while Diane Lane as Trumbo’s wife is life to just smile from the sidelines.
As for Cranston himself; he brings to mind part of what made Breaking Bad so great, but in the worst way. What Cranston could do so well was make it clear when his character Walter White was himself acting. His performance there had to layers; a level of artifice on top of the real character he was playing. Sadly in Trumbo we only get the top layer of pretending as if Cranston is playing an actor playing Trumbo. It is all caricature and no character. The result of this is that when bad things happen to Trumbo you don’t care as much as you should and you are infinitely aware that you are not watching something real. This film does not immerse you in its world but keeps you at arms reach.
Trumbo is not a bad film. Yes it could lose 30 minutes from its runtime but the film is certainly enjoyable and had me chuckling throughout. The story itself is also interesting but once the film was done no part of it was racing through my head the way the best films do. With films like Trumbo about an important subject the films themselves want to be treated as important. As Trumbo finished it was begging for applause and some of the press audience dutifully applauded but frankly it didn’t really deserve it. Just because a film is about admirable people doesn’t make that film automatically admirable itself.
Trumbo screens at the festival today and tickets can still be bought online.
21st February 1946 – 14th January 2016
“If only life could be a little more tender and art a little more robust.”
8th January 1947 – 10th January 2016
“I reinvented my image so many times that I’m in denial that I was originally an overweight Korean woman.”
Adam Buxton on David Bowie from 2013:
Louis Theroux has a distinct style as a documentarian. He is the man who has access, who spends a great deal of time with his subjects and needles out insights and humour from their endless interactions. In making his first feature documentary Theroux has chosen a subject that forces him to change his strategy. You can say a lot of things about Scientology but nobody would ever call them accessible or open to being interviewed.
With no current member of the Church of Scientology to interview Theroux takes a large amount of inspiration from The Act of Killing and makes a different kind of documentary. Someone Theroux does have access to is Marty Rathbun; a defector from the Scientology who used to be one of the most powerful members of the Church. In between the types of conversations we have come to expect from a Louis Theroux documentary they settle into a Los Angeles studio, set up casting calls for the Church’s leader David Miscavige and celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise and Theroux gets Rathbun to direct re-enactments of his history with the church. The focus is not on the arguably outlandish claims of Scientology but on the training techniques they use and on claims of violent abuse made against Miscavige. Before too long Theroux does not need to go to the Scientologists as the Scientologists come to him in retaliation.
The switch in style helps demarcate this film from Theroux’s huge body of television work. There has been a deliberate choice to make something cinematic and as such the approach is that which could not be achieved on a television budget. The resulting film is funny and insightful but not as in-depth as other Scientology documentaries and not quite as personal or funny as traditional Theroux output. The lack of access to the Church means that we have to go without endless scenes of Theroux asking awkward questions of Scientologists and potentially getting a reaction no one else can get. We do get glimpses of what fun this might have been as he is confronted by a prominent Scientologist whilst filming on a public road near their studios but sadly this makes up the minority of the film when normally it would have been the film’s core.
It is these moments of confrontation and antagonisation that have brought Theroux a legion of loyal fans. We get to see him being perfectly reasonable and yet incredibly cheeky in the face of the unreasonable and the deluded. When Louis comes up against an immovable object he is precisely the right irresistible force than manages to goad them into dropping their facade and revealing any unpleasantness that might lie beneath.
I suppose my only complaint with My Scientology Movie is actually a big compliment. I just wanted more. I wanted more insight into the machinations of the church and I wanted more Louis Theroux. Granted Theroux was never going to make an in-depth historical documentary but I wish he had been able to gain access to more members to ask uncomfortable questions of. While the film was running I was laughing away and feeling deeply uncomfortable at the right moments but when it was finished I was disappointed. I didn’t want it to end as I hadn’t yet had my fill. I loved the film enough to resent it for having ended.
Louis Theroux remains a master of his craft and I cannot wait to see how his feature documentary career develops. Whatever gets me more Theroux makes me happy. This is not the definitive Scientology documentary but it is most definitely Louis Theroux’s and it is a fascinating and enjoyable ride.