The Beguiled (2017) Directed by Sofia Coppola. With Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning.
Sofia Coppola’s remake of the 1971 Don Siegel film of the same name draws less from that movie and more from the original source material of Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel. Coppola’s screenplay switches the perspective from the male gaze of the 70’s film to that of a group of isolated women who happen across an injured enemy solider (Colin Farrell) 1-year before the end of the American Civil War.
Winner of Best Director at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, Coppola and her cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd establish a strong sense of atmosphere, creating a tactile background canvas that evokes a southern gothic dreamlike quality to build an absorbing story which is in part a study of the power balance between men and women as told through the lens of the past.
What’s beautiful about Coppola’s adaptation is the way in which non-verbal communication is as much a part of the writing as the dialogue. The dynamic between the women is deftly applied; women who are trained to behave well around men, to please men, but until Farrel’s arrival, have had no opportunity to put their training into practice. His arrival disrupts their group, creating a sense of competition among them that is all of divisive, dangerous and excting.
Nicole Kidman is the matriach of the group – strong when she needs to be – the kind of woman who knows what needs to be done, struggling to fend off her own desires. As she tends to Farrell’s wounds, her wet cloth moves from his torso, down his abdomen to his inner thigh. It’s the sort of thing you’d find in a trashy romance novel and her yearning is palpable, but there’s dignity and sympathy in Kidman’s portrayal of a woman carrying a headmistress-like responsibility of being the leader of an inherited family unit.
The second elder of the group, Kirsten Dunst gives a more vulnerable performance than we’re used to from her, seemingly tapping into a younger version of herself. There’s something fragile but distantly hopeful about her. She’s different from the others, which is highlighted in a dinner scene in which she wears an off-the-shoulder dress (considered vulgar at the time), to which Kidman’s character points out how Dunst is from “town society with different rules”. Her competition with Elle Fanning’s more openly flirtatious character makes for a risky dynamic that adds intrigue to the drama. Fanning is self-absorbed but her youth makes her potentially the most inviting prospect to Farrell’s mysterious character.
The sudbued lighting and leaning toward the effect of natural light adds further texture and atmosphere. Shot on 35mm on one location in New Orleans, Coppola offers depth in her cinematic framing, but with a close intimacy that translates to the small screen.
The use of music is minimal and plays under the surface of the drama, which allows the natural sounds to be a more prominent feature in the tapestry of the storytelling. The distant boom of canons are met with wide long shots of beautiful treelines poisoned by plumes of war smoke. The lighting is notably subdued and natural – Coppola opting to use candles in the dark and plain daylight in the morning.
With a slight running time of 1hr-30mins, Coppola creates a good amount of drama and intrigue around a small setting. The young actresses are excellent in supporting roles, while threat lurks inside and outsdie the confines of the house they share. A dangerous liaision story of manipulation and desire told with artful style.
I didn’t realize the it was a remake (or rather, a re-imagining) of an older film. You clearly do more research than I do! I’ll have to check out the original sometime. Great review.
Thank you, Tina. I don’t usually go heavy on research but in this instance I watched a few YouTube interviews with Sofia Coppola to get a gist of what her vision was. She’s one smart lady.
I like her a lot.
You’re so right about the power of what isn’t said. You can feel the tension mounting in this movie.
Vinnie, I love that about the movie. It’s a slow build, but not one that feels slow, if you get me. Smart performances across the board.
Oh I understand. It takes its time but doesn’t feel like a long slog.
I usually find Dunst to be so cold (even in the Spider-Man movies!) but I found her to be warm and interesting here. I liked the movie for its small surprises.
I’d second that. We’ve all watched her grow up on screen, from Interview with the Vampire to The Beguiled. That distant coldness has been a current throughout her career – Melancholia seemed to demonstrate it best. Even in small supporting roles like Hidden Figures, she portrays characters who often seem to be internalising. She let her guard down in The Beguiled. I liked that. Great to hear from you, Franz.
Interesting, I will see this film asap. And hey, thanks for the follow! 🙂
It’s worth seeing. Coppola does a fine job of creating a atmosphere and tension. Thank you.
I am a fan of the original. I thought it was thought provoking and groundbreaking at the time and I still see it that way. I didn’t view it from the male prospective. Keep in mind I was a child when I first saw it. I identified with Amy and I cheered her from the stands of her perspective.
That said, I know I should see Coppola’s version. Great post. I love how you have emphasized the psychological, unspoken dynamic. It makes me want to see Coppola’s film.
Well-written analysis! Interesting how the “male gaze” tone of the original (which I haven’t seen yet) is politically incorrect now.
A few minor edits for you–
group, Kisten Dunst[,] gives
and outs[id]e the confines
This is a great review, but I would like to disagree 🙂 You say that this film “draws less from the [previous] movie and more from the original source material of Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel”? You must be solely referring to the girls’ perspectives and nothing else. It pains me to read this sentence of yours because, as a frequent re-reader of the novel, I am always just shocked to see how deplorably Coppola handles the novel. The novel is just a marvel of emotional intelligence, hidden tramps and subconscious processes. There is very little attempt to induce insight or intrigue that is in the novel in this film. Apart from the atmosphere and Kidman’s lead, this film has no appeal, and actually it completely misunderstood the point of the novel. This is definitely Coppola’s The Beguiled, and no way this is Cullinan’s The Beguiled. I wrote my review comparing the film to the book if you are interested.
I don’t share your investment in the book, meaning I’m not as informed as you. Perhaps it’s hard to see a movie for what it is after experiencing a story in a different form. I’m sure that’s partly true. But then, films are subjective. We have to allow for the way everyone comes to the table with their own life experiences, which constantly inform how we see and interpret images and sound. I saw Coppola’s The Beguiled and found it absorbing. If Coppola handles the boom deplorably, then it’s the kind of deplorable I enjoyed. Thank you for arguing your point in a polite and eloquent way. It’s this kind of interaction that helps me believe that WordPress is the best home for amateur film criticism.