Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is a multi-million selling rock star with fans in every corner of the world, but she has hit a snag recently when she had to have an operation on her throat which has rendered her almost literally speechless. She can whisper, but she certainly cannot sing, so has cancelled all her concerts and retired to an Italian island in the Mediterranean with her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) where she hopes to recuperate in peace. That was the plan, but as she lies on the beach with him she receives a call on her phone from her old partner and music producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes) who has invited himself over to see her - whether she actually wants to see him or not.
This was not a remake of the mildly famous David Hockney documentary, nor was it overtly inspired by it in spite of a particular outdoor leisure item featuring prominently, no, this was a remake of the louche French drama La Piscine, or The Swimming Pool as it was otherwise known in English. That had starred the celebrity couple of Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, whereas this featured a rather older cast of the middle aged with one notable exception in Dakota Johnson, who showed up in tow to Harry as Penelope, his twenty-something daughter. She keeps herself to herself, though seems unimpressed by the older generation, but then again it is only her father who is trying to impress her at all.
Fiennes had a field day with the role, a gregarious extrovert who says whatever is on his mind whether it is sensible to do so or not. We can tell this has gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion, and as the reserved Paul is the only one who can talk to him, initially at least, it would appear that there is trouble ahead once again, though director Luca Guadagnino kept his cards close to his chest as to what that precisely would be. He did stick to the basics of the source while adding in a few kinks of his own, but if you did not know that work then the ultimate consequences of Harry's arrival may come as a surprise, though when this was marketed as an erotic thriller you could argue the twist was most guessable.
"Erotic" in this case seemed to be that the four main cast members took all their clothes off at various points in the plot, giving the audience a full frontal eyeful which seemed a somewhat cynical method of keeping the viewer engaged, especially when the mood was so languorous that the depiction of lazy summer days by the sea threatened to simply wind up showing the actors dozing off were it not for the Herculean efforts of Fiennes to keep our interest alive. He did this by playing his character as aggravating to the hilt, annoying the others who are too polite to tell him to calm down, aside from Paul who makes it clear he would appreciate Harry toning down his high spirits to more manageable degrees. It was assuredly not the sort of performance you were used to seeing from this star.
As Harry, Fiennes shouted his head off, sang and danced, behaved inappropriately with Penelope, tried to have sex with Marianne, and mightily pissed off Paul by taking over his holiday home that he had hoped for a quiet period of recuperation to spend with his beloved. This was one of the least intense pressure cooker environments ever seen in the movies, but somehow you kept watching, whether to see Harry get his comeuppance (though all he was doing was being a bit irritating for the most part) or to see if he would well and truly upset the applecart of Marianne's idyll. For instance, he insists on getting her to speak, which she does in a hoarse whisper, even though her vocal chords need all the rest they can get, but then the theme of communication and how much damage you can do by withholding vital information for your own possibly petty goals was brought out in such details. Once the thriller plotline had started, it was too little too late as far as genuine thrills went; this was more a character study that took a grim turn, and as far as that went, fairly engaging and visually well presented. Music by Yorick Le Saux.