25 August 2017.
THE BEGUILED (Les Proies) ****
Sofia Coppola won Best Director for this film at the Cannes film festival and deserved it fully. From the very first shots of dark, moss-covered trees in the woods near a girls’ school in Virginia during the Civil War, she sets the tone of the South – its languor, its tensions and mysteries. Coppola films as Françoise Sagan wrote – creating atmosphere and mood, pulling you gently into the tale…as she did with her first great film, “Lost in Translation”.
A wounded Northern soldier has been found by one of the remaining students of this Southern girls’ school while she is out picking mushrooms. She brings him back to their stately building where the schoolmistress, superbly played by Nicole Kidman, must decide his fate.
Coppola creates this sultry mood of seduction and desire – of a lone man in the captive company of young women who become beguiled by his soft-spoken words and his interest in them, enthralled by him, making the fact that he is the Northern enemy even more dangerously thrilling. For his shattered leg has put him at their mercy.
The girls are all aflutter at the presence of this male, for he is a looker and a charmer. Colin Farrell plays the Union soldier to perfection – a tender listener, a polite and grateful guest, entrancing each girl depending on her character and needs. That is the first half of this film which should have you spellbound, until an incident upsets the genteel mood he has managed to inspire.
With excellent supporting roles from the likes of Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, Coppola pushes all the right buttons of human need and folly in this tale in which women are not as helpless as they seem and men are not as evil as they may appear, however foolishly they may behave. It’s simply the age-old blend of desire, jealousy and vengeance when attractions are aroused. Both beguiling and shattering, this is a gentler, more female version of the same story filmed in 1971, with Clint Eastwood as a macho version of the Yankee soldier.
Superb **** Very Good *** Good ** Mediocre * Miserable – no stars
Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.