An American couple, Paul and Marianne, spend their vacation in Italy and and experiences trouble when the wife invites a former lover and his teenage daughter to visit, which leads to jealousy and dangerous sexual scenarios.
ActorsStarring: Dakota Johnson, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Aurore Clément, Corrado Guzzanti, Lily McMenamy, Elena Bucci
In this film Tilda Swinton plays Marianne, a major rock star who has had to have a throat operation and is convalescing in a villa on an isolated Mediterranean island (The Italian isle of Pantelleria southwest of Sicily) with her younger lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). All seems idyllic and Eden-esque (complete with a presumably symbolic local snake) when temptation arrives in the form of her former record producer and ex-lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes) who, in the way of the music business, has recently discovered that he has a grown-up daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), who is travelling with him during a break from her studies.
Marianne invites Harry and Penelope to stay with him, to the irritation of Paul, a recovering alcoholic who was enjoying the peace and tranquility. Harry is the opposite of tranquil, a hedonistic, energetic motor-mouth who clearly still has designs on Marianne. Paul has temptation laid in his path in the form of the langorous Penelope, to whom there is more than meets the eye. The film begins as a romantic drama, with the main issues being which of the characters will, or will not, pair off with one another. The action unfolds in the remote villa, quite a drive from the main town of the island, which is, in a nod to current affairs, inundated with migrants from nearby Tunisia. In the third act the film takes a somewhat darker tone as the story takes a more dramatic turn, and the relationships of the characters come under considerable strain.
The standard of acting is high, with Ralph Fiennes larger than life as the dynamic but arrogant Harry, happily crooning in the local karaoke bar, dancing energetically and uninhibitedly to a Rolling Stones track or swimming naked in the villa pool. His character is boorish, yet he evokes just enough sympathy and energy to allow us to believe that Marianne had once fallen for him despite his numerous character flaws. Tilda Swinton has to act within the constraints of being able to speak only in an occasional whisper due to her throat operation, yet she manages to convey more emotion in a glance or a gesture than many actors can manage in a lengthy speech. The other main performances of the characters Paul and Penelope are more one-dimensional, but both Johnson and Schoenaerts exude enough sex appeal to be convincing in their roles. The direction is good, especially in the first half of the film, though for me the backdrop of the large influx of migrants on the island was signposted in an overly heavy-handed way, and the garden of Eden symbolism was also not exactly subtle. Nonetheless the acting is good enough to make the audience care about the fate of its distinctly flawed protagonists, and there is a rather charming scene near the end of the movie that brings some resolution to the plot in a reasonably satisfying way. For me there was an even better movie to be made of the material (inspired heavily by the 1969 movie “La Piscine”), and a less jarring musical score would have helped, but it certainly keeps the interest going through its 124 minute running time, and is worth watching for the acting of Fiennes and Swinton alone.