By Ali Moosavi.
Sofia Coppola’s decision to remake Don Siegel’s 1971 film The Beguiled (in Official Competition at this year’s Cannes), seems on the surface as strange and intriguing as Coen Brothers’ remake of Henry Hathaway’s True Grit. Both films had been made from a novel adaptation by directors with a solid reputation and both starred cinema icons (John Wayne and Clint Eastwood).
The film is set during the American Civil War. John (Colin Farrell), an injured Union soldier is found in the Virginia forest by a girl from an all-female seminary run by Martha (Nicole Kidman). The girls, excited by having a man amongst them, decide to let the soldier stay with them, for the time being, rather than hand him over to the Confederate soldiers. They also start rivalling each other for John’s love and affection. John also uses the situation to let each of the adult girls, who include Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning), as well as Martha, believe that they are the sole object of his love and affection. This creates a Pinteresque atmosphere where menace lurks and for John’s survival at any cost.
Coppola has infused the remake with much more sexual tension and humour than the original. For this reason, Colin Farrell is perfectly cast as John and is much more suited to the character than Clint Eastwood was. To further help creating the right atmosphere, Coppola has ditched soundtrack music and used only the diegetic music being played by the girls, plus natural sounds and the continuous sound of shells being fired in the war. Also, she and her cinematographer Philip Le Sourd have used only natural light. For exteriors they have used various shades of sunlight, and for interiors plenty of candle light, painting a tableau with each shot. The performances are all excellent, with Dunst perhaps making a bigger impression than the others. In my view, it is an improvement over the original and Coppola’s best film since Lost in Translation.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015) and is based in the United Arab Emirates.