Sofia Coppola is one of the rare directors where she rarely delivers the same story twice. Her films can be incredibly divisive but one would be hard pressed to not be excited to see what she does next. Now four years after her essay on fame ‘The Bling Ring’ and her Christmas special ‘A very Murray Christmas’ Coppola returns with an incredible Western like Drama ‘The Beguiled’, and after winning the 2017 Cannes award for Best Director, the film made it’s debut at the Sydney Film Festival with great fanfare. Thankfully that fanfare is well deserving. The Beguiled is one of the year’s best.
Based on the 1971 film of the same name, The Beguiled takes place a few years into the Civil war at a girls’ school in Virginia where the girls have next to no real relationship with the outside world. On one walk outside of the school gates a young girl stumbles upon a wounded Union Soldier, John McBurney (Colin Farrell), and brings him in to be healed. The women inside instantly take a liking to this man, and Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) the head of the household agrees to keep him in until his leg heals. But as he stays the girls start to become possessive of John’s time, and he creates a divide in the household.
There’s a real classical style that permeates throughout this film, with a classic grainy film stock being effectively used to create a time and tone. Shots of people outdoors have a great blurry effect, making the backdrop of the large forest appearing as if it’s a beautifully painted backdrop. There’s a stillness that hearkens back to when films didn’t need to rush through every plot point to get to the next scene. This is a movie that revels in taking it’s time. Sofia nailed this in the film ‘Lost in Translation’ but here the quiet pauses not only show longing and loneliness, but a bumbling tension under the surface.
This Director has achieved some of the best performances in the past for actors like Bill Murray and more recently Emma Watson, but she does it once again with the beautifully stoic performance by Nicole Kidman as Martha Farnsworth. Nicole has had an amazing year but it’s here where she gets to shine brightest. Supporting her is Colin Farrell’s John McBurney and Elle Fanning’s Alicia, who both play pivotal parts in breaking this household up. While I may be singling out performances, it should be noted that there is no weak links in this film, for example Kirsten Dunst (a frequent collaborator with Coppola) nails her duplicitous role with aplomb.
The film’s tight 90 minute run time is surprisingly dense yet amazingly simple. I knew all the characters that inhabited this world, but the film never aspired to reach a bigger or grander meaning. It’s a story all about control, and who welds it, and never intends to have a greater meaning on our world. It feels like an odd comment to make, but film’s that connect this much with me, like 2017’s Get Out, felt like they were commenting on something larger. For this film to capture me in the same way without needing that present day hook shows an immaculate understanding in nailing a concept.
The Beguiled is without doubt one of the year’s most haunting and captivating films. The film can have the audience laughing in nervousness, or deliciously savouring characters power moves within seconds of each other. Sofia Coppola and her cast clearly all believed in the concept, the story and the delivery and it shows. Once again Coppola will make the end of year lists and she does it with seemingly effortless flair. A must see.
Score – 95%