I was surprised by Sofia Coppola’s film “Beguiled”, which just won the prize for best direction at Cannes: this new twist in her oeuvre. The first half of the film is very much like that of her previous work: lonely frustrated women locked up in a luxurious huis clos, with beautifully lingering sensuous shots of their clothes (here all white) and the sumptuous grounds (here a mansion in the south in the era of Civil War time). The story is that these girls (Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst etc) and a school mistress (Nicole Kidman) are sequestered in a luxurious boarding school, in refuge from the Civil War: in much the same way that Marie Antoinette was holed up in her castle, protected from the Frnech Revolution in Coppola’s 2006 film.
Then a man appears and every girl goes ga ga.
It is somewhat humorous—and also disturbingly traditional---how each girl fantasizes about this man, an injured northern soldier. He is the romantic hero, that fairy prince of lore.
That is until the abrupt ending.
I was shocked and delighted by this bold feminist move on Coppola’s part, this critical evolution in the director’s perspective on her favored (and nearly tired) theme of the poor little rich girl. I asked her about it in the press room at Cannes, hoping the notoriously reticient director would answer.
“ In ‘Lost in Translation,’ you had an alienated girl who is rescued from her loneliness by a man. Here there is a radical and exciting evolution. The man is cast on the other side of the gate!”
“Yes,” Coppola laughed--and unexpectedly answered my question.
“I liked this last shot visually. I love the image of them behind the bars, seeing them through and trapped by the Southern Gothic, and the man dropped outside!"
It is a small film—just an hour and a half—but worth seeing, if just for the last thirty minutes, which in the violent pacing, is a radical surprise.