Gisell Says THE BEGUILED Is A Wicked And Delectable Little Treat.

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FILM REVIEW: THE BEGUILED

BY GISELL BUTLER

The Beguiled is a breathy, seductive thriller that digs its way under your skin, and induces a subtle, swelling apprehension, which stays with you long after it’s over. There have been two major variations of this story in the past: the first was the self-titled novel penned in 1966 by Thomas Cullinan, and the second was the 1971 Clint Eastwood film based on the book itself. I have neither read the story nor viewed the 70’s classic picture. I pondered on whether or not I should have watched the original version and ultimately decided against it. I elected to go into this one with a fresh perspective, free of any nostalgic hang-ups. It is quite certain that this film is probably not going to be a movie for everyone. Sofia Coppola directed, co-wrote, and produced this low-budget art piece, and it has a high probability of being divisive amongst audiences. However, indie films are becoming increasingly popular, so it goes along by saying that I fully support indie cinema and I hope everyone goes out and samples this wicked, delectable little treat.

This story takes place in Virginia during the Civil War in 1864. Upon the film’s opening, the audience is taken on a visual excursion of the plantation grounds. All of the girls attend boarding school, which is taught at the plantation by Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and this is where the girls reside as well. The real on-set locations were all filmed in Louisiana at Madewood Plantation, and the external scenes are gorgeous and really capture that time-period and the pastoral scenery compliments its atmosphere. Coppola shot this film in 35 mm, and it was a fantastic choice, due to the setting and nature of the film. There are wide-angle shots of bellowing willow trees, calm creeks, smoky skies, and unkempt mossy areas, which all seem to encapsulate and shelter these women away from the world.

During a perilous time, when war is raging, these women have very little to entertain themselves, other than routine, which is often found in their daily chores and schoolwork. Eventually, one of the younger girls, Amy (Oona Laurence), is gathering mushrooms in the woods and stumbles upon a wounded soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), and she agrees to bring him back to the manor to speak with the head lady of the house, Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman). Although initially reserved, Martha decides to take him in and mend him, but his presence triggers a change in these women, whom start diverting their attention away from their duties and onto this mysterious man; causing danger and deception far more troubling than the war that continues to brew on the horizon.

This film is pretty straight-forward, but I’ll try my best to remain tight-lipped with regards to spoilers. This is a story about a man who really plays these women out of his hand, we witness how he charms each of them, and this film tempts and taunts you with tension, which builds throughout the film. The main three women played by Nicole, Kirsten, and Elle, are all attracted to Colin Farrell’s character for different reasons. He doesn’t seem to feel guilty about charming each of them and while the others may lust after him, it’s Edwina’s character (Kirsten Dunst) who falls in love with him. One major issue that I had was with marketing, which I felt divulged way too much in the film trailer. If you haven’t seen the trailer, try to avoid it. I was rather disappointed to learn that a crucial scene shown in the trailer, pretty much directly implies what will happen in the film. This usually is of no consequence to me, but having seen the trailer prior to this screening, when the third act rolled around, it was already spoiled for me since the preview set up everything in my mind. If you’re a Beguiled fan and you already know how the narrative goes, this may not be of concern as much to you as it would be to a first-time watcher, but it somewhat thwarted my experience. I feel that those implied plot points should have been withheld in order to contain the surprises in the story.

The casting ensemble: Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Oona Laurence, Emma Howard, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, and Colin Farrell, all collectively gave great performances. Farrell really excels in his role, as a handsome soldier who sweet-talks his way into each of their hearts, by playing on their emotions and vulnerabilities. The cinematography by Phillippe Le Sourd is absolutely stunning, and everything from the murky visuals, iridescent candlelight, dim atmosphere, and flushed skin; really evokes a lush, Gothic tone set against a Southern backdrop.

Aside from a few distant shots of the region-which immediately surrounds the manor- this story takes place primarily within the pillared-enclosure of their plantation. The strong feeling of seclusion, remoteness, and loneliness is apparent, and throughout the film you can deduce that these girls are often bored and frustrated, and this home is somewhat like their own prison. Sofia Coppola loves creating these dynamic and somewhat flawed characters that seem to have desires for intimacy or belonging; like in The Virgin Suicides or Lost in Translation. In many of her past films, the characters are “cut-off” or emotionally isolated from their peers, and you can tell she appreciates these types of characters and is utilizing her past experiences by introducing us to this new set of strong, vindictive female characters. We often see women sacrificing their sisterly bond and betraying one another, for a man. However, that’s not exactly the case with this film. We witness how these female characters interact with this soldier and how he tries to test their willpower, and despite being tested, they remain a unit and protective of each other.

Much of this story revolves around seeing the forces at work between these women and the man they welcome into their home. This is a slow-burn, so don’t expect twists and turns at every corner. It’s an ensemble piece, and the story intimately acquaints the viewer with these individuals, who seem to be harboring secrets. I do believe that Coppola made these directorial choices with the intent to allow the viewer to interpret the holes in the story and use your own imagination with determining what these characters motivations are, as well as what mysteries lurk within the house. I think this film will be widely underestimated. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and at times, it might feel like its dragging, or there’s a lot left to be desired, but I imagine that is the purpose. This is one of those types of movies, that gets under your skin, the more you think about it. Perhaps even a film that is deemed to be viewed more than a few times. There is a meditative scene at the end, a “last-look” shot, and this eerie scene really festered in my mind afterwards. It’s one of those shots which makes you contemplate everything that you have watched and beckons you to explore all of the ways in which you arrived there, up to that point.

The costume design, acting and cinematography were all praiseworthy. I tend to have a weakness for Gothic stories and themes, so mixing in the Civil War timeline with its lacey gowns, low lighting, and dark, lustful story just made me enjoy its fervent and tempting tale of passion even more. Kidman, Fanning, and Dunst were the three leading ladies in this film and they all interacted well together and they each had realistic chemistry with one another. These are some A-list actresses and they all managed to balance and compliment each other while sharing scenes. It’s challenging being that subdued on film without coming across weak or overpowering in your delivery, and I thought they all did a great job with regards to inhabiting these characters who are living a sheltered existence.

Coppola was an admirer of the first film and she made some bold choices with regards to this story and in my opinion, this film possesses some of the best camerawork and atmospheric groundwork of her career. If you’re a fan of the story and enjoy independent films with cast ensembles, you’ll probably take pleasure in this sinful endeavor. However, if you’re usually not accustomed to liking art-house films, you may want to go in with an open-mind and tempered expectations. I loved The Beguiled, but I really wish its mysterious veil would have been slightly pulled back, in order to allow audiences a glimpse of the enigmatic allure that is enrooted in this story.

 

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