Coppola's 'The Beguiled' debuts at Cannes

By Moira Sullivan 

The promise of a new perspective with the remake of The Beguiled by Sofia Coppola caught the attention of film critics at Cannes in May where it debuted. It was a film that pretty much serviced the macho hired gun, San Francisco cop and spaghetti western cowboy Clint Eastwood in the 1971 version directed by Don Siegel.

Wounded Yankee soldier Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is discovered outside a girls boarding school in the South by one of the young women. The sheltered atmosphere of the school in the midst of a civil war gives the impression that these women have never seen a man before, one of the fantasies that is imbedded in the narrative and in the novel. Sofia Coppola claimed she was going to tell the story from the point of view of the women in the school. While it is true that Eastwood commands the screen, Colin Farrell was every much the same kind of character in every scene and everything is about him. He is rescued just like Eastwood and brought into the house and surely makes his way around gathering the attention of not only adolescent girls but the head teacher played by  Kirsten Dunst, school master Nicole Kidman and prize student the young Elle Fanning.

What Sofia Coppola won a best prize for at the Cannes Festival for what in French is called 
Prix de la mise en scène –that is the arrangement of the composition of the frame- the lighting, the setting, the costume and makeup, the movement of the characters and their facial expressions. It is a job that is done by individual people or crews and supervised by the director. Mise en scène  does not mean best director in English although the director is responsible for the entire production including the shots, editing, and sound.  A director in French is known as a réalisateur/réalisatrice. When accepting the award Coppola thanked Stacy Battat, her costume designer who also worked on The Bling Ring. This was televised on video since Coppola could not be at Cannes to pick up her award. The costumes were exceptional in the film and in the darkness are well lit by candlelight. 

The little ladies float graciously as young southern belles and they learned on set how to be gracious and courteous. Their good manners and Christian schooling puts them in the dangerous predicament for instead of being on alert with a wounded soldier in the woods, inviting him into the house. This is no different than in the 1971 version and novel. However, in the older version there is a black female slave employed in the house, Hallie played by Mae Mercer who is not in Coppola’s film. It's perplexing that she wasn’t there for the Civil War was fought over the abolition of slavery. But her presence in this white house with southern belles in white dresses was somehow that Coppola couldn’t afford in making her film. Kimberly Peirce (Boys don’t Cry, Carry) explained in San Francisco when Carrie debuted that in order to develop her main character there is only so much “real estate” –supporting characters - in a film to flesh out the story and reinforce the main character. She would have liked to have included women of color but did not. Coppola explains The Beguiled was a film about gender not about race. This was an obviously ignorant response and at present commands the social media in intense discussion. It is important to remember that this is a Hollywood film that perpetuates a dominant discourse where women are subordinate to men. What Coppola does in The Beguiled is to open this subject to internal contradiction where women have control over the Corporal. It is not without several of the women throwing themselves at his feet and fighting over him though out the film until he can protest no more.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/24/17

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