Contemporary Review / Review

The Beguiled

by Haley Goetz

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It’s been four years since the world has seen something made through the eyes of Sofia Coppola. 2013’s The Bling Ring brought us into the confines of Hollywood’s elite, following a group of teenagers as they rob the estates of the rich. Now, 2017’s The Beguiled brings us to a more intimate setting; an all-girl’s boarding school in Virginia that exists as the Civil War comes to a close. Based on the novel by Thomas Cullinan and inspired by the 1971 film of the same name, directed by Don Siegel, The Beguiled is an extremely intimate and revealing look into the power of femininity. Not quite a horror film, it has its moments of true suspense. The Beguiled is a film that will leave its audience wholly satisfied.

Miss Martha (the formidable Nicole Kidman) runs the school along with the help of Edwina (Kirsten Dunst). It is there that they teach a cohort of young and pubescent girls how to conduct themselves even when there is no one to present their learnings to. The girls are cultured, learning French and playing instruments such as the violin and piano. One of the girls, Amy (Oona Laurence), stumbles across the injured Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell) in the woods one day and everyone decides to take him in despite his Yankee status in their very Confederate area. The tension slowly but surely erupts, as all of these women don’t have a clue what to do with a man in their midst after not truly being around one in years. When the corporal begins to flirt with Miss Martha, Edwina, and the young Alicia (Elle Fanning), things don’t bode too well for him.

This is a film composed of stolen glances. The acting is utterly impeccable from start to finish. Nicole Kidman’s Miss Martha holds centerstage as the school’s headmistress. In a revealing moment with the corporal, she states that she hasn’t been with a man in nearly three years as they longingly stare at one another. While Miss Martha may be more reserved with her sexuality, Alicia is extremely forward about it. Elle Fanning has been having an incredible moment lately in her film roles, mostly because she brings such grace to the various roles she inhabits. Her Alicia is curious and sensual, and this is what ultimately attracts the attention of the corporal. Edwina, on the other hand, is pining for true romance and she will stop at nothing in order to get it. This is the first time Dunst has been in a Coppola film since 2006’s Marie Antoinette, and she has a very commanding presence in The Beguiled. Finally, the corporal is an interesting man that Farrell really brings to life. He is sort of aloof when it comes to his sexuality and this certainly becomes a detriment down the line for him.

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The script for The Beguiled works well due to how sparse it is. It’s so effective because what isn’t conveyed through dialogue is shown through exposition. This in itself is the Sofia Coppola trademark. The setting of the film also becomes a rather important element. Shot on location in Louisiana, the whisper of the Southern willows really complements the predicaments of the characters. This time, instead of populating her film with the sounds of modern indie-pop such as Phoenix and The Strokes (a la Marie Antoinette), Coppola instead barely has an echoing soundtrack for The Beguiled. It’s a bit off-putting initially, as big fans of Coppola’s filmography have come to love this move of hers. The score was still composed by the members of Phoenix (Coppola is married to lead singer Thomas Mars) but it’s very minimal, more so in the vein of Arcade Fire’s soundtrack for Her. Another important element found in The Beguiled is that of its cinematography. Shot by Philippe Le Sourd, the crispness of the film is lovely. It was a good move on Coppola’s part to shoot on film rather than digital.

Coppola really lets the characters govern the film, and that’s why it’s directed so well. Along with this, she manages to create an absolutely foreboding atmosphere. The women at times are very much off-putting, and once the corporal is thrown into the mix it sets everything askew. Sofia Coppola is a very distinctive director and this is most definitely due to her style. Every film of hers has signature elements; a girl staring out of a moving car window, the classic indie-rock soundtrack, the occasional bout of no dialogue. Therefore, watching something as different as The Beguiled is interesting. It goes without saying that Coppola rightfully deserved the award for Best Director at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Returning back to the film itself, The Beguiled is super interesting in the way in which it showcases the power of femininity and the degradation of masculinity. The story starts by revolving around a group of women and it ends on the same footing. There are times when it seems that the women are powerless, but, in the end, the women remain the most powerful. Without giving too much away, the film demonstrates the fragility of men at times and how sensitive they can be. It’s an interesting watch just for this case study.

In the end, go see The Beguiled. It’s a super interesting film that has a lot to say. And it also showcases the immense powers of one of the leading forces in American cinema. Sofia Coppola’s films are always great and this one is no different. The film is suspenseful at times and captivating, and the narrative is sure to keep an audience interested for its entire duration. It’s a great summer film that is not to be missed.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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