Friday, 28 July 2017

The Beguiled review

I check out Sofia Coppola's Cannes sensation, The Beguiled, after the jump....

Murderous or innocent?
The Beguiled is pure, vintage Sofia Coppola. Take a semi-obscure horror-thriller that in no way needed remaking, remove 99% of the horror-thriller elements, and then remake it into a dreamlike haze: a timeless fairy-tale trapped in fog and the forest. This means, of course, that it’s going to prove very divisive indeed. Some may be charmed by the unsettling beauty on show here, and, hell, some might also be thrilled. But others will be turned off by the glacial pacing and strangely stilted payoff.

Colin Farrell stars as Corporal McBurney – an injured Civil War unionist who flees from the fire and blood of battle before collapsing in the woods. It’s here where Amy (Oona Laurence) comes across him whilst looking for mushrooms. Before long, he’s holed up at the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies, where his leg can heal and passions develop for a good number of its residents (who, by the way, share the sentiment). As you can imagine, this goes none too well for anyone, and the whole situation begins to collapse…

Beautifully filmed
The Beguiled feels like its just been knocked over the head: it’s woozy, dazed, and stumbles around on its own idiosyncratic wavelength until it eventually collapses from exhaustion. I mean that in the nicest possible way: shot on 35mm (on the fantastic Arricam Light), cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd goes full out in terms of turning the film into a lucid fever dream. In Academy Ratio, beautifully textured outdoor shots fill with an almost mystic drifting mist that permeates the forest with almost insidious intent: as if some airborne sedative hellbent on coaxing our protagonists into a dangerous stupor. There’s a repeating shot, of the impressive pantheon-esque school, set diagonally at dusk within the encroaching woodland. With its pastel shades, and distinctive fuzz, it really feels like something out of a fairy-tale or myth: a timeless, layered image.

What’s the point of it all? I don’t really know. I guess, at the end of the day, that’s my main qualm with The Beguiled: it just kinda feels…. Well… hollow. One could say the central mystery lies in the title: who, in actual fact, was beguiled? Was Colin Farrell struck by the beauty of the women surrounding him? Or were the women surrounding him enraptured by a polite male presence? Was it both? Or was it neither? And, when the carnage inevitably comes, just how innocent are all the players in this mess? Are the actions of the women logical and moral, and, even if they are, do they take some sort of perverted sadistic joy in the manner in which they carry them out? But, ultimately, these are practical questions that only fill the mind after the film is over and not before.

Shit hits the fan...
It’s also pretty damn annoying that, when the pot finally boils over, Coppola escalates and ends the tension in a space of time that feels way too short for what we’ve been through to get there. Some may be captivated by the moral dilemma of it all: are these consequences justified? But others may find the precise content of the catharsis to be illogical and stilted. Then again, that’s the point of fairytales, isn’t it?

It’s just such a beautiful, captivating watch that concerns about meaning and tension evaporate in much the same way that a viewer of a painting, or a reader of a poem, has no real preoccupation with narrative. Instead, The Beguiled works as a conduit for various ideas around masculinity, sexuality, and love that intertwine around its central conceit. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman give stellar performances as almost arch rivals – their motivations never completely clear, but their personalities eerily similar. They’re bolstered by fantastic turns from Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, who compete for the affections of the major in very different ways.

As I said earlier, it’s not for everyone; but fans of Coppola will lap this right up. 
The Beguiled gets 4 stars!

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