For Our Consideration: Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes in A Bigger Splash

By  · Published on September 6th, 2016

Awards Rejects

The most dynamic duo of the year is now on home video.

Never mind the Academy voters’ consideration, here’s what average moviegoers need to be checking out during awards season for their own personal benefit.

Summer is over, and the period known as “awards season” has begun. Buzz is flying out of film festivals, and fall previews are highlighting Oscar contenders with extreme prejudice. We are expected to move forward, forget everything that came out the first eight months, and look at every new release for how it could measure at the Academy Awards in February. Well, that’s how some people get to play the movie calendar through the end of 2016. Most of us in the real world remain a step back this time of year, hearing chatter about what we’ll eventually see months from now while finally catching up on stuff the critics were raving about many weeks ago.

The most important thing for us to catch up with this week is A Bigger Splash. Maybe you saw our rave review back in May or spotted the title in our list of the best movies midyear. It’s a great piece of visceral grown-up entertainment directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) and features deliciously raw performances from Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes. As an ex-couple, they’re the most memorable pairing on screen in a year that’s filled with many complex partnerships. They contrast and connect better than the animated rabbit and fox, the clashing-then-cooperating superheroes of multiple films, and maybe even the guy accompanied by a farting corpse.

A Bigger Splash likely won’t see much recognition come actual awards time, at least not by the heavy hitters like the Oscars (maybe the Independent Spirit Awards?). And that’s fine, even if Swinton and Fiennes currently are and likely will remain among the most noteworthy performers of the year. Not to knock their individual work and achievement, but the two are best here as the sum of their parts. Each character is like a co-creator of the other, sculpting him or her through oppositional force, defining through disparity the way there can be no darkness without light and vice versa. They are, at the same time, complimentary in their converse magnetism.

Swinton is credited for doing a lot with a speechless role, playing a rock star named Marianne Lane who has undergone throat surgery. But she does have a number of lines of whispered dialogue; it’s just that she has to and is able to say so much without words. Even in the scenes where she does talk, her expressions in between the lines are where we find the key communication. Fiennes, on the other hand, is all talk as her former producer and lover, Harry, and when he’s not talking he’s a total mystery. He’s obnoxious but somewhat enjoyable for us, at a distance. And he’s a lot more tolerable when he’s with Marianne, when we can see their history in the way they interact. And how she wants to talk to him even though she shouldn’t.

The two of them together isn’t the only great thing about A Bigger Splash, which altogether is a film that’s constantly delivering marvelous sensations. What’s uniquely surprising is that it’s a relatively mindless picture for adults, compared to the usual dramas aimed at audiences over the age of 25 that try to be intellectually stimulating with heavy dialogue and convoluted plots. It’s so rare that we get satisfying films that just mean to reach our senses. Not even our emotions. Just our eyes, ears, our senses of smell, taste, touch, etc., some of it directly and some of it through our imagination, respectfully allowing us to fill in where necessary, probably subconsciously.

SXSW 2014: How Tilda Swinton Rolls

But Swinton and Fiennes are a special, sexy treat above all else, not that they overextend the boundaries of the film as whole. They certainly don’t exist outside of it (if anyone does, it’s Dakota Johnson, sometimes). They’re just the heaviest components, making that bigger splash into the pot of drama that’s steadily heated to a boil. And after the ephemeral sensations dissipate, they’re what we remember most from the film. If there’s an award for what they do as a pair here – if only the MTV kids weren’t the only ones who get a best on-screen duo honor – they deserve it, but it’s not necessary. All that’s needed for them is for us to see it. The prize is all ours to receive.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.