Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell Slow-burn in Sofia Coppola’s Civil War South
DIRECTED BY SOFIA COPPOLA/2017
Filmmaker Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, The Bling Ring) won the coveted Best Director award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for The Beguiled, and with good reason. Her film may not be shot with showy directorial gusto, but it is lit and decorated with an eerie dreamlike quality, fitting for it’s title. The mortuary atmosphere and desolate and ghostly vibe of this housebound period piece elude the mostly female cast, who’s characters have long called this place home. As for the soul male of any concern, he most certainly has a different take on the place.
Based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan and filmed once before by Don Siegel, Coppola’s version is a Civil War era story of housebound paranoia and moral wrestling. It is also the film most wrought with multiple layers of various female anxieties in quite some time. It may never give words to it, but The Beguiled is an estrogen powder keg in search of a match.
Like the characters grappling with their Christian humanitarian values versus national loyalty, viewers of Coppola’s The Beguiled will ask themselves throughout what is the proper thing to do when “loving your enemy” could prove as dangerous as fighting him.
Nicole Kidman is a pragmatic Southern Christian matriarch, effectively managing a large school full of younger women and girls. Kristen Durst, the only other adult on the premises, is the live-in nanny/teacher. The oldest among the handful of students is a simmering teenager played by go-to sexual teen actress, Elle Fanning.
When a wounded enemy soldier (Colin Farrell) ends up in their care, the decision of how to handle the situation is heavy and ever present. As feelings for him begin to inevitably emerge, all of it constantly shifting. The Man in their Midst is first an issue of trust then one of libido, always an issue of survival.
There’s an established protocol for when enemy combatants are on one’s property, and how to nonchalantly inform passing Confederate soldiers of the situation. But, the Union uniform aside, this is unarguably a war-weary man in need of immediate aid, and one who’d probably otherwise die, if not from execution then from untreated wounds, if formally taken prisoner. Plus, he seems to be nice man… and not hard on the eyes of these holed up ladies.
Kidman is decidedly commanding in the lead of this film. Her marked performance is a major part of her current prestigious career resurgence, something great to witness. Farrell, in need of a similar career restart as of late, has similarly landed an ideal part, once originated by Clint Eastwood. (The Eastwood/Siegel version, also known as The Beguiled, remains unseen by this critic at the time of this writing). Likewise, it’s great to watch Kirsten Dunst age up so effectively into supporting roles such as this.
Like the characters grappling with their Christian humanitarian values versus national loyalty, viewers of Coppola’s The Beguiled will ask themselves throughout what is the proper thing to do when “loving your enemy” could prove as dangerous as fighting him. A meditative slow burn that gets real in its final act, the director has delivered a film thoroughly in keeping with her own established themes of the unease inherent in privilege, femininity, an impersonal outside world. The Beguiled, though, demonstrates a strong step onward for her; something perhaps more commercial while also remaining fundamentally artistically her own. She continues to address the quiet wars that go on within each of us, civil or not.