The ongoing pervasiveness of rock and roll nostalgia and how it motivates immediate cries of best trailer/soundtrack/scene of the year be damned. Despite my twenty-or-so-years removal from The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and Led Zepplin fuelled 1970s and their freewheeling energy that seems to make everyone aged between 17 and 70 misty-eyed, there’s an energy in the sound that commands the attention of my ears and eyeballs. The climactic scene of A Bigger Splash is one that is sure to be remembered and enshrined as one of the better representations of rabid rock and roll nostalgia. Ralph Fiennes, in all his hairy-chested glory and dappled by Yorick Le Saux’s sun-kissed cinematography, dances with reckless abandon through an Italian villa for four solid minutes to The Rolling Stones tune Emotional Rescue. He punches the air, gyrates, and flies through the air, lost in memory and the act of rose-coloured reflection. It’s a scene so pleasurable that it indeed gets to the bottom of rock and roll nostalgia itself.
There’s a sense of the need to belong to a movement permeating A Bigger Splash. When Fiennes’s character Harry bursts in, a bustling, feverish wind not unlike the desert gusts that ravage Pantelleria (the island the film’s set on), he brings the past back in one movement. As he regales his willing audience, which includes rock star and former lover Marianne (Tilda Swinton), her documentary filmmaker boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), and his newly discovered daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson), there’s a distinct generational divide in the group. Just like Pantelleria is not quite Europe or Africa, Paul and Penelope are unmoored from the heady excitement of 1970s rock and roll that Marianne and Harry found their connection through. What does their generation have to remember with excitement and perhaps a little too much kindness, what do they feel connected to?
It doesn’t take much of an imagination to connect this with Guadagnino on a professional level – his films are mostly shunned in Italy – he’s operating on a much more experimental plane than many of his contemporaries. Guadagnino also considered the disparate younger generation, absent of a unifying movement, in his breakthrough film I Am Love, where a dynasty collapsed under the weight of progress, disconnection, and sex. Once entwined interests frayed and collapsed from self-interest, leading to an absence of passion, the world collapsing all around it, broken beyond repair by the final frames. As The Rolling Stones blasts over the sound system and Harry tells his story with a glint in his eye, you can’t help but feel that this is what filmmakers and audiences alike wish to bottle with the onslaught of classic rock admiration. It’s messy, unapologetic passion and fun, a simpler time with shared memories that are far enough into the distance to only be remembered independent from reality. But as the film moves towards its final act, a violent kick after the languorous yet dread-filled first two thirds, it lands at much the same conclusion as I Am Love. The party of the old world, fractured and broken by the new, must end eventually.