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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 06.30.17] thriller western



Men and women are different in many ways though perhaps one of the most subtle and misunderstood is in the way we communicate in a group. There's a version of the "bro-code" for women which remains mostly a mystery - sometimes even to women - and considering how badly women are under-represented in the film industry, one doesn't often see the nuance of female interaction on the big screen.


Enter Sofia Coppola who, from her first feature, showed a capability of not only capturing the way women interact but doing so in a way that feels like we're in the middle of the conversation. With The Beguiled, Coppola returns the story to author Thomas Cullinan's original vision, telling it from the female perspective while also trimming the unnecessary to deliver an intimate observation on how women interact.


Set three years into the Civil War, The Beguiled stars Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst as the two adult women managing an all girls school in Virginia which has dwindled into, basically, the girls who have nowhere else to go. Their only interaction with the outside world is the occasional exchange with passing soldiers on the road and even less frequent visits to the front door. Into this enclosed world of inter-generational women comes Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell).



A Union Soldier, McBurney is found by one of the young students who helps him to the school where he is treated by Miss Martha (Kidman) and Edwina (Dunst); neither woman has been in close contact with a man in some time and the students, led by Alicia (Elle Fanning), have even less experience with what to expect of the handsome soldier.


And so begins the downfall of McBurney, a man who is clearly used to getting his way with women and who thinks he can manipulate his way though the apparently desperate group at the school. What he doesn't account for is the fact that these women aren't helpless. They've survived alone for three years in a world where men make decisions with little input or concern for them and they're not about to let a stranger turn their lives inside out even if, on the surface, that appears to be exactly what happens.


What's even more interesting than watching the balance of power "apparently" oscillate between McBurney and the women is watching the women interact, how the balance of power shifts among them and how, in the end, they come together to defeat their foe.


The Beguiled is told through a series of vignettes and with each, we see the ways in which the women interact with each other, with McBurney and how those interactions are different. Each scene is a small gem but few are better than the scenes where we see the entire group together. The actresses navigate the scenes with an ease that feels second nature and Coppola captures it all with a keen eye for every detail. From the way the girls giggle when having dinner with McBurney to Kidman's loaded chastisement of Dunst's dress, there's great joy in watching the women navigate their own motivations and yet, never giving up on each other. Case in point: the final dinner scene. Vengeful bitches indeed.


This take on The Beguiled isn't quite the sexual thriller Don Siegel's 1971 version was; Coppola is far more interested in the nuance of the characters and story but she also doesn't shy away from the visceral when necessary. The result is a gorgeous gothic tale that isn't afraid of anything: not the sexuality of girls and women, not the way we communicate, not the measures we take to keep afloat and certainly not our sense of humour.


The Beguiled opens June 30.



Recommended Release: The Beguiled


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Genius (1 month ago) Reply

This a fantastic Review! Great Job!


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