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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Sep 8, 2017

The Beguiled Movie Review: We Don't Know How It Won The Cannes Filmfest Best Director When It's Such A Weak, Lackluster Version Of The Originial

AFTER WE learned that Sofia Coppola won the best director award in the Cannes Filmfest last May for “The Beguiled” (which she also wrote and co-produced) and some folks said it’s of Oscar calibre, of course, we got excited to see it. So off we went to Trinoma on its first screening as it’s shown only in Ayala Cinemas (salamat po.) Coppola did well in her first two films, “Virgin Suicides” and “Lost in Translation” (then she did duds like “Marie Antoinette” and “Bling Ring”.) But after watching “The Beguiled’, we can only say that it’s certainly overrated.

The movie is actually a remake of a simmering sensual potboiler with the same title in 1971 directed by Don Siegel, based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan originally titled “A Painted Devil”, starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page.

The story is set in Virginia three years into the American Civil War. The opening scene shows a young girl, Amy (Oona Laurence), while walking in the woods like Little Red Riding Hood, collecting mushrooms. She stumbles upon a wounded Yankee soldier-deserter, Corporal John McBurney (Collin Farrell), who later turns out to be the Big Bad Wolf who’ll mess up their life.

She helps him walk to get to the exclusive school for girls where she lives with four other girls under the care of headmistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) and teacher Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst). Martha doesn’t like Amy’s bringing the injured Union soldier to their school, but Amy reminds her about Christian charity so she agrees to take him in, even cleans and stitches up the messy wound on his leg.

They intend to nurse him back to health before transferring him into the hands of the Confederate soldiers. You can hear the booming of cannons in the battlefield in the distance every now and then, to remind us that the war is still going on.

The film runs for one hour and a half. In the first hour, it is presented like a dream, with lush nature images, using diffused lighting even in the candlelit scenes, with a dark texture and with erotic undertones, like that scene where Martha is shown giving a sponge bath to John’s naked torso and thighs.

Raging desires are presented with restraint, like Martha and John about to kiss when someone gets along the way. But the tone is uneven and the film changes gears in its last half hour that borders on Gothic horror, with an overcontrived finale aided by deadly mushrooms.

John knows he’ll be more safe inside the school so he befriends the girls who are thrilled in having the company of a man and are competing for his attention. At first, he is not shown as having a predatory nature out to make sexual conquests in his new harem. He just wants to survive rather than be held captive by the Confederate army.

Farrell’s screen presence lacks sexual power and tension as the injured soldier who plays the ladies off against each other. In contrast, Eastwood looked more wily and manipulative.

Among the females, Kirsten Dunst gives the strongest and properly nuanced performance as the lonely, repressed Miss Edwina (played by Elizabeth Hartman in the original movie) who gets so heartbroken when she discovers John’s betrayal of her.

In contrast, Kidman has the regal bearing of a well bred Southern belle, but lacks that hint of lustiness that was so palpable in Geraldine Page as Martha, whose yearning for Clint seems to be boiling under her skin. The younger girls, especially Elle Fanning as the flirtatious and randy teenager, Alicia, fare better.

Honestly, the earlier version that borders on camp is more successful in painting an intriguing story of sexual temptation and betrayal. Coppola’s own take is very weak in comparison and fails to cast any spell on the viewer to make them really feel beguiled. You’d honestly wonder what the jurors in Cannes saw in the movie that made them choose Coppola as best director.