Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sofia Coppola's THE BEGUILED

Sofia Coppola has not so much remade the 1971 Don Siegel film; she's re-envisioned it through a more modern and less sensationalistic lens.  It's still a Southern gothic, but it's no longer a B movie; as Sofia (only the second female to win Best Director at Cannes, for this project) said in a Q & A at the L.A. Film Festival on June 15, "I wanted to make something beautiful."  Since pictures are worth thousands of words, the differences between the two films is more than evident in their trailers.

First, the Siegel version of Thomas Cullinan's novel starring Clint Eastwood:

And Sofia's, with Colin Farrell (and the "vengeful bitches"):

Sofia's Beguiled is very much a corollary to her 1999 film The Virgin Suicides (based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides), and the two would make a superb double feature.  The 1999 film involves a group of pre-teen boys spying on the beautiful, cloistered Catholic girls across the street and becoming beguiled by them.  If you haven't seen it, it's wonderful--perhaps Sofia's best film after her superb Lost In Translation (which she disclosed she wrote at her dining room table in Los Feliz, feeling like a "lost trophy wife"--I presume when she was still married to director Spike Jonze).

Sofia Coppola initially studied painting at Cal Arts, then focused on photography, with particular interest in fashion photography (if you recall, she also made a foray into clothing design).  Sofia was influenced by photographers David Hamilton and Helmut Newton; she found the latter's work dramatic and liked how he saw women.  When Sofia began planning the look of The Beguiled, she revisited at lot of photographs and talked to DP Philippe Le Sourd about how she envisioned the movie's look and palette.  

Sofia wanted a film that was "stark," "naturalistic," "minimal," "tense."  (I might add that it also has humor.)  So she also opted for very little, subtle music (some source music and other music adapted by Phoenix, whose frontman Thomas Mars is Sofia's husband).  The most prominent sounds are those of the Civil War in the background and cicadas on the grounds of the house fallen into desuetude.

The stars of the film are Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning, but the entire ensemble of females, from the 12-year-old who finds the wounded Union soldier on up, play democratic roles in this iteration of the plot--I loved that.  Their resident teacher, played by Kirsten Dunst, instructs them in everything from French to sewing (sewing skills turn out to be a trĂ©s important motif here).

Sofia has made a more emotionally complex film while respecting its genre roots.  Farrell's character's presence causes not so much a sexual hysteria among the females (well, at least the older ones), but more of a sexual awakening, and, for all of them, relief from their dogmatic slumbers and the isolation of the war.  And Farrell's character is far more complex--he initially alternates between sympathetic and manipulative. 

Sofia shared that re-making the 1971 film was originally suggested to her by her production designer-producer Ann Ross; the two are friends, and both have 6-year-old daughters who reportedly made their own 30-minute version of The Beguiled.  Now that's the one I'm really curious to see....

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