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THE BEGUILED

“Elle Fanning… delights with a performance of scheming flirtatiousness. Given the circumstances, it’s a catalyst for disaster.”

Wayward Wolf.

 

Director Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is a simple tale based upon Thomas Cullinan’s novel, set during the American Civil War, deep in the Confederate state of Virginia.

A young girl, Amy (Oona Laurence), is out picking mushrooms in the forest when she stumbles upon a fallen Union soldier, Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell). Wounded by a gun shot to his leg, he is fast bleeding to death. The kindhearted Amy helps him to a ladies’ seminary where he can receive treatment and convalesce.

This seminary is also Amy’s home which she shares with four other young girls of varying ages, all of whom are tutored by their live-in teachers, Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), and her assistant Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).

Whilst the unremitting sound of gun shots rumbles away somewhere in the distance, Miss Martha and Edwina do their best to ensure that some semblance of civilised normality is maintained at this well-to-do school, priding themselves upon producing well-mannered, well-educated young southern ladies.

Being also a school of deep-rooted Christian values presents Miss Martha with something of a dilemma. Should they now turn the Corporal in to the Confederate forces, or wait at least until he is fully recovered from his injuries?

The decision is made, but given the potentially problematic nature of this predicament, it could very easily be one that they will all live to regret.

McBurney’s wartime allegiances of course contravene the ‘values’ expected of a good Confederate household, but it’s simply his manly presence here that is unquestionably the cause of the competitiveness, jealousy and ultimately betrayal that soon develops between the ladies of the house.

It doesn’t help that McBurney in some ways encourages the situation. Fully aware that he is the only, and therefore Alpha male here, he begins to revel in his increasingly powerful status.

The Beguiled is a slow-burning yet expertly-paced affair, not to mention a fascinatingly taut experience from start to finish. A film of tightly bound layers poised to unravel spectacularly at any moment.

Developing moral and sexual tensions simmer away, guards are gradually lowered, alcohol flows, and it’s only a matter of time before lines are crossed and the pot well and truly boils over.

Farrell is excellent portraying a man mindful to remain sufficiently polite and charming in the face of the welcome steady encroachment of female interest – all the while, wary that he may still be turned in to the authorities at any moment.

Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Miss Martha is one of authoritative decorum, whilst Kirsten Dunst produces a nuanced performance of repressed longing. Elle Fanning (Alicia), on the other hand, delights with a performance of scheming flirtatiousness. Given the circumstances, it’s a catalyst for disaster.

Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography is refreshingly conservative in its execution, but no less beautiful for this. An abundance of static shots and an almost ethereal use of light and delicate textures captures wonderfully the very essence of the hot and sticky natural beauty of the southern location.

Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is darkly humorous on occasion, thoroughly entertaining and ever so seductive – almost beguiling one might say.

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: The Neon Demon

Running an advertisement for a series of films that heavily influenced Nicolas Winding Refn’s directorial style immediately prior to the screening of The Neon Demon could be seen as either an enlightening glimpse into the mind of the film’s director, or a sort of ill-advised, potential plot spoiler.
In truth, whilst very evidently shaping his thought processes for this latest venture, more than anything it provides an opportunity for appreciation; to nod knowingly at clear but well realised influences within Refn’s own stylistic approach. The Neon Demon, it must be said, holds up well under its own merits.
This sinister tale is Winding Refn’s twist on a familiar theme; that of a young innocent heading to the big smoke to seek her fame and fortune. The young innocent in this case is she with the God-given beauty, Jesse (Elle Fanning), a girl of subdued yet focused ambition to be a top model.
Her seductive natural beauty induces dollar signs in the eyes of some, but green-eyed envy in those of others.
Within the truly vacuous fashion industry, beauty, we are told, is everything.
“Is that your real nose? God, life is so unfair…” pipes up one picture perfect model; a girl whose personal plastic surgeon has dubbed her ‘the bionic woman’ for obvious reasons. She’s certainly pleasing on the eye, but that can’t curb her and her colleagues’ underhand bitchy sniping at the new girl in town, something that has the potential to escalate out of all control.
As each day unfolds and as Jesse is quickly drawn into, and begins to embrace, a world shorn of its moral boundaries and whose inhabitants fawn relentlessly over her ‘talents,’ her appreciation of her own self-worth and her awareness of others’ jealousy steadily grows. This is a girl under whose cute exterior there lies an ingrained belief that she is in possession of a gift. It’s a gift that she’s been informed is dangerous. But is it dangerous for her or dangerous for others?
Elle Fanning is excellent as Jesse, Keanu Reeves puts in a convincing if limited turn as the soulless owner of the sort of motel that Anthony Perkins might think twice about staying at, whilst Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee (Gigi and Sarah, respectively), are a pair of sharp and conniving fashion models whose places at the top table seem to have been somewhat usurped by this new imposter and flavour of the month.
It’s perhaps however Jena Malone, playing make-up artist, Ruby, who convinces most though, with an edgy role exploring the macabre and truly ‘forbidden’ sides of humanity. Her self-appointed role as friend, guide, and general lookout for Jesse’s well being is admirable on the surface, but in the morally bankrupt, artificial construct that is the fashion industry, good intentions are probably not always what they may seem.
Visually stunning, minimal in its direction, underpinned by dark sexual tension, and awash throughout with influence from some of the very best of cult horror, science-fiction and suspenseful film-making, Nicolas Winding Refn has outdone himself with this one.
Cliff Martinez’ throbbing, power-packed analog synth-heavy soundtrack provides a sonic backdrop that truly drives home Winding Refn’s vision, right through to the film’s lurid and somewhat unexpected conclusion.
As Picturehouse Cinemas’ upcoming short season of films suggests: Think Carrie, think Mulholland Drive, think Videodrome, think Under The Skin, amongst others…
The Neon Demon may well owe a lot to its predecessors, yet it still manages to sit assuredly amongst such revered company.