7:30 PM, 1st September, 2017
At the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, Sofia Coppola became only the second woman in the festival’s 70-year history to win the Best Director prize. She did so with The Beguiled, which has also earned the most favourable reviews for a film by any Coppola since her own 2003 masterpiece, Lost in Translation.
The film follows an Irish immigrant (Farrell) in 1864 who is desperately looking for a way out of the American Civil War. He ends up taking refuge in an all-girls schoolhouse run by a devout Christian headmistress (Kidman). As its sheltered young women provide refuge and tend to the man’s wounds, the house is taken over with sexual tension and dangerous rivalries, and taboos are broken in an unexpected turn of events.
At a runtime of just 94 minutes, Coppola has stripped Thomas P. Cullinan’s source novel – the basis for a male-centric 1971 Clint Eastwood-starring adaptation – down to its bare bones, and flipped it on its head. The end result is the most narratively structured film of her career, and also the most conventionally entertaining.
The reliably brilliant Farrell and Kidman give impressive performances, but it is Kirsten Dunst who steals the film as the lonely school teacher’s assistant. It is refreshing to see such fully realised characters with their own agencies and temptations, so much so that when Farrell’s character at one point screams, “You vengeful bitches!”, it is as empowering as it is riveting.