Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Beguiled '17

It was this or The Big Sick for the last movie I could catch in theaters before heading to Montreal, and this was closer at hand (and shorter, allowing me to watch the MLB All-Star on non-awful tape delay). I'm not sure whether this was the best choice, but it's one I don't regret; it's pretty enough to merit a big-screen viewing.

The big take-away from it, I think, is that Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst are really undervalued as actors. Both seemed to get tagged as "movie stars" early on in their careers, attractive and note-worthy but not really taken seriously, and because the studio filler they did that wasn't necessarily much good got a lot more attention than the smaller movies where they stretched themselves, that tag stuck. If nothing else, here's hoping that The Beguiled gets people excited about seeing them on-screen rather than being wary.

The Beguiled (2017)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 July 2017 in Somerville Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

Sofia Coppola's take on The Beguiled is beautiful, manages a slow burn without ever getting bloated, and features a fine cast doing good work. And yet, it makes me want to say "and yet…" Coppola often seems content to run her fingers along the surface of what's going on here, enjoying the texture, but seems reluctant to get in close when there's ugliness that could be on display, not when there's a lovely veneer to put over it.

The action takes place in 1864; the American Civil War has been going on for three years, and it has left Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) and her convent/school rather short on pupils, with just five girls plus teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) still staying at her family's manse. Amy (Oona Laurence) is the one who finds Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) while looking for mushrooms in the woods. He panicked and ran when he first encountered combat, but still managed to catch a bullet. Amy brings him back to the school, where the women and girls agree to let him recuperate before turning him over to the Rebel soldiers, although having a man about after so long on their own can't help but awaken feelings long-dormant for Martha and Edwina and relatively new for the adolescents, with Alicia (Elle Fanning), would would probably be considered old enough to marry back home, especially aware of what she hadn't realized was missing from her life.

There's a temptation to regard this school as Edenic, with the introduction of sex leading to its downfall, but it's perhaps telling that the school is referred to as a convent more than once. These women were already sequestering themselves from men - they are, at times, as worried that the Confederate soldiers will appropriate their supplies as they are about threats from the Union - which makes the isolation fascinating to examine: The almost-uniformly white clothing becomes an assertion of purity rather than a symbol of it, and the thick-canopied forest doesn't quite mean that exterior scenes feel like they're indoors, but it's defensive. Martha knows that bringing men it will destroy it.

Full review on EFC.

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