June 28, 2017

CINEMA | Sofia Coppola Tames 'The Beguiled'

"It seems the enemy is not what we believe."
Colin Farrell Nicole Kidman Sofia Coppola | The Beguiled

Arthouse filmmaker Sofia Coppola returns to period drama with The Beguiled, her Civil War era remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film based on the book by author Thomas P. Cullinan, for predictably lush and moody results. Starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman as a wounded Union solider and the girls' boarding school principal who is forced to care for him, the film is a meticulously melodramatic retelling firmly focused on the female gaze.

Set in the antebellum south of Virginia in 1864, the period mood and sense of female repression is palpable. Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning round out the cast of women and schoolgirls who are first shaken then piqued by the unexpected male presence of an enemy solider. Farrell and Kidman are fantastic, ping-ponging each other, and playing a surface level game of polite seduction. It's a mostly welcome reversal of the usual male gaze fantasy where the women's actions are slow, deliberate, and calculating despite their buttoned down nature.

Coppola's sense of expressing the disrupted group dynamics among women is tightly executed with a tinges of southern gothic overtones. Her trademark slow and atmospheric filmmaking style alongside cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd's hypnotic lens adds to the specific sense of character history in the female characters as they are one-by-one seduced by the underlying Irish charms of Farrell's Corporal John McBurney while they nurse him back to health.

The Beguiled is a tense and finely execution reinterpretation of the material strictly told from the female perspective. A psychosexual work of Southern values, Christian charity, and female desire as manipulated by male aggression, the film cements itself as a restrained yet vividly bold portrait of repressed sexual aggression Coppola has crafted an intoxicating narrative laced with darkly psychosexual themes of contemporary feminism.


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