The Beguiled: NZIFF Review
Gifted the best director awards at Cannes for this, Sofia Coppola returns to more ethereal portraits as is her wont in The Beguiled.
Set in 1864 Virginia, 3 years into the Civil War (though, in all honesty, time and the world outside barely trouble much of what transpires), Coppola's take on the 1971 Don Siegel Southern psychodrama, which starred Clint Eastwood, is as wispy as the mist which hangs over the woods in the opening shot.
Colin Farrell stars as a wounded Union soldier, Corporal McBurney, found cowering under a tree by one of the young charges at the local girls seminary, run by Nicole Kidman's buttoned up Martha. At first the seven of them debate what to do with McBurney, but different feelings of repression, desire and blossoming sexuality come to the fore as time passes.
Initially deciding to allow McBurney to recuperate before being sent on his way, the chaste and secluded women find themselves all-a-fluster thanks to McBurney (and by extension, Farrell) and his rogueish charm.
Soon, however, the question becomes who is beguiling who?
Coppola's eye for the female gaze is evident throughout, much like it was in The Virgin Suicides.
By turns, light, funny and sultry, The Beguiled does much to bewitch, even if its flirtations are as passing as the breeze.
What transpires is a four-way as Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Kidman and the preternaturally youthful Elle Fanning vie for the attention. From dinners that drip with the potential of a cat fight, or the closest a finishing school will allow, to clandestine visits and impromptu liaisons, the film positively drips with sultry sensuality as it plays out.
Coppola's more interested in the female dynamic at play here and most men, bar Farrell, are framed from a distance when they appear and / or are surplus to proceedings. Sure, cannons fire and plumes of smoke appear on the horizon, but men are rarely seen at this finishing school, giving the flirtations a weight that's understandable when McBurney shows.
But as she stacks the deck with betrayal, lust and repressed desire, what she creates in The Beguiled is a similarly themed entrant as others display in her catalogue. Using a similarly ethereal lens and vision, Coppola may be making an obvious film in many ways, but its subtleties are enough to beguile the audience.
With equal amounts of humour, takes on etiquette and coquettishness, the battle of the females, and simple simmering, the film manages to cast a spell on those who view.