So last night we tripped along to our local flea pit to see The Beguiled, the latest release from Sofia Coppola- winner of Best Director at Cannes 2017 festival for this very offering.
Having heard only good things about the film, having read the way other figures like Tarantino have championed its vision, our expectations were high- the trailer promising an evening of languid scenery and tense claustrophobia set against a backdrop of the American Civil War.
What’s not to like, right?
We settled in then, for an evocative ride full of stifling tension and strains of desire.
That however was not what we experienced.
Not even close.
Because sad to say, this film was just plain awful.
Man, you have no idea.
Beginning with a beautiful shot of an untamed Southern Grove, all dappled lighting and fruitful decadence, the scene really leads you into the story, its lack of incidental music (other than a child’s slightly sinister singing) making the whole thing haunting and tranquil.
So far so good.
Except that’s when a horribly wounded Oirish Colin Farrell rocks up and everything starts to go down-hill quicker than a cheese wheel in Gloucester.
That first scene that so impressed with its hazy impressionistic quality, we came to realise was going to be copied and repeated for the entirety of the film. It’s not hard to guess that the intention behind these verdant landscapes was is to create a sense of a long and repressive numbed era where desires found themselves buried faster than new recruits in the army.
And intellectually that aim makes sense. But instead of feeling repressive the whole thing felt stultifying instead. Ponderous in its intent. Languorous when there should be some sense of life or threat. And that together with no discernible pacing of any kind, with moments linked purely by brief communal scenes, the film quickly descended into a series of impressionistic paintings populated by inscrutable, unlikeable women.
The best way to explain how boring this was to watch is to ask you guys a question.
Do y’all remember that scene in Roald Dahl’s The Witches where tiny Norwegian moppet Erica gets trapped inside the painting by one of the afore-mentioned baddies and her friend can’t get her out? Despite all their best efforts they’re unable to free her from that prison and end up simply watching Erica age and grow old behind that oil and canvas? That was what watching The Beguiled; years passing by with us trapped there in our seats wanting nothing more than to free its characters from the confines they were so miserably caught up in. Alas though we don’t have that kind of power either and so found ourselves forced to endure its full tedious 93-minute run all the way through.
And the characters, Jesus. Don’t get us started on those.
This is meant to be a character study, after all isn’t it? It can be little else given the suffocating individual location and Coppola’s strict refusal to leave this setting. So, one must presume that the interest lies in the human and moral conflicts of those trapped there.
But despite a creditable cast of players, the truth is that each one of them is hamstrung by a lack of backstory, a lack of any self-expression other than a constipated visage and a tight necked gown. Farrell is charming enough we guess until he loses his shit in the most ridiculous breakdown you’ll see for some months. Nicole Kidman is staid and serious as the matriarch of the manor, Kirsten Dunst awkward and unflatteringly miserable. Elle Fanning for her part was cringingly coy whenever she tried to be alluring (also trigger warning for some dubious consent issues) while the other girls were amorphous and to be quite frank indistinguishable from one another. It was a surprise to find that they even had names attached in the credits actually. And spending time with this motley crew of unhappy vixens was so draining that we came out of the cinema feeling flat and miserable ourselves which let’s face it, is never a good thing.
Thinking about it The Beguiled could really take some inspiration from Jordan Scott’s Cracks (2009) which managed to create a suitably claustrophobic location while never skimping on the character traits that set its schoolgirls apart when jealousies and tensions began to arise. This movie however seems to be of the opinion that snide comments and micro-aggressions a compelling tale make, which is a huge cinematic misstep. And surprising from the director of great films like Melancholia and The Virgin Suicides at that.
There are dramatic scenes of course (and we use that word strictly in its filmmaking technical sense.) But the gruesome nature of the injury detail Coppola uses to up the ante is far too jarring when placed against the torpid overall atmosphere. And the violence that ensues when tensions boil over was just plain laughable (we didn’t ROFLMAO or pilot a ROFLcopter but there were points where we actually LOLed and we weren’t the only ones in the audience.) These scenes were even worse than the endlessly dreary ones in retrospect; unexpected, badly thought out and obvious in their intention to inject some much-needed tragedy into proceedings.
This all sounds incredibly harsh but genuinely when those credits had gone up neither of us watching had any idea what the message of the film was supposed to be buried under all that nubile longing.
That men are cads, charming or not and are singularly unable to keep from getting their horn on when women and girls are in the vicinity?
That women’s natural instinct is to please men? That regardless of who they are, their collective sin-stinct tells them to put on a show for any male they come across, acting like a bunch of preening peacocks for the reward of his attention?
That his attention is the only thing that gives their lives meaning?
That’s not very feminist and was actually quite off putting to consider. And probably the part that bothered us the most in hindsight. Having no distinguishable message is poor. Having one that inexplicably links female’s desires to male attention is just plain crass.
So, yeah in case you couldn’t tell we pretty much hated this movie.
It was boring and draining and irritating in its meaning.
And that’s fine you know- there is always joy to be had in experiencing something that makes your skin prickle and your ire burn.
But…and this is important too so take note.
PSA ALERT: As fully paid up, banner waving supporters of any women who manage to make their way in the male dominated world of cinema, we’re also worried that this lemon of a film doesn’t get used as an example to stop other female writer-directors from getting financing. We’re concerned that critics and viewers will use this as an example of the ‘feminine vision’ where crinoline and sexual frustration are all they have to offer in terms of content and put paid to any new female artists coming up through the ranks. Male film makers produce cinematic turds on a freaking production line and are allowed to make more without taking a fatal hit to their career so women should be given the same chance.
So, there’s that too. Just something to think about.
Anyways we feel a lot better getting this off our tightly corseted chests.
Come say hi on Twitter- @Heligena or @cosmicpixie
And tet us know if you felt the same- we can set up a support group or something with high tea and Annie’s special mushrooms.