A month after The Beguiled premiered at the Cannes Film Festival – earning Sofia Coppola the Palme D’Or –, the acclaimed film has finally debuted in theaters on Friday 23.
The new Coppola’s installment is a remake of the Don Siegel’s 1971 Southern Gothic film, starred by Clint Eastwood. Now, the director gives the story a new perspective, with Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Colin Farrell as the stars.
Based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Thomas P. Cullinan, the story is set in Virginia in 1864, time of the Civil War’s final battles. The movie follows Union soldier John McBurney (Farrell), who after getting injured in a battle is left in the woods nearby an all-girl boarding school, the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies.
Twelve-year-old Amy – played by Oona Laurence –, one of the students of the school, finds McBurney and is taken to the house to help him recover. As the days go by, he begins to have affairs with two of the women at the school. At first, he’s totally amused by the women, but soon things turn against him in ghoulish ways.
Coppola gives the story a new perspective
In 1971, the story was all about the soldier and how he dealt with the odd situation. But what about the women? How are they feeling? What’s actually behind what is happening? Coppola moved the narrative of the story to the women’s point of view, giving out a completely new message.
“The main crux of the story is about the dynamics between a group of women all stuck together. Then also the power shifts between men and women,” she said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “So for me, it’s very universal, but it’s in this exotic setting of the Southern gentility.”
The director said years ago that she would never ever do a remake until her production designer came to her with the story of ‘The Beguiled,’ which immediately caught her attention. Coppola saw an opportunity in a story that portrays a group of young women that have gone completely mad over a man’s attention, not representing women at all.
“That was a macho guy’s point of view,” she told the Rolling Stone in early June. “I kind of love it for what it is, but the women are crazy, and you can’t relate to those characters”. She also said that her way to retell the story was to hold onto the fact that these women had been raised to be ladies.Now, all of the sudden, their lives have turned in a race to survive.
It has her signature all over
The film has Coppola written all over. First of all, Kirsten Dunst, the director’s longtime muse. “Before she even wrote the script, she talked to me about it,” the actress said in an interview. The blonde belle starred two of the most acclaimed Coppola’s films, ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and ‘Marie Antoinette’. She signed with the idea without hesitation, as she saw how the story revolved around women thinking, which she thinks is not such a common idea.
The complete storytelling is subtle and lets you unwrap the plot with a slow pace. Always from the perspective of the women. Unlike the original version, there are no spoilers about the soldier’s backstory and current intentions, giving the story an innocent tone.
She gives a huge importance to the role of femininity in this film, more than usual. The protagonists have literally been raised to be graceful, servant. “All they’re taught is how to be attractive to men and be modest. Now they have to find their roles,” she said.
However, the director did an amazing job not turning such an erotic story into a female sexuality exploitation. Fanning and Dunst described the mood on set as very “safe”. The 19-year-old actress said “Colin was probably the most naked person on set and I think Sofia was definitely very aware of that. She wasn’t looking to oversexualize the women in the way the original did.”
‘The Beguiled’ is a powerful statement as much as it is visually dazzling. Besides, it does a great job balancing innocence, a crescendo suspense that reaches intense violence, not losing grace at any time.
One of the best Coppola’s titles to date, that’s for sure.