By Brian Brooks
Filmmaker Sofia Coppola’s family name is recognizable to nearly any movie fan. She is, of course, the daughter of famed director Francis Ford Coppola who has followed in her father’s footsteps, but she has paved her own path resulting in a number of pioneering accomplishments to her name. Ms. Coppola received an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for her popular feature Lost In Translation and also became the third woman ever to be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award for the same film.
Just last month, Coppola managed another feat. She became the second woman — and first American woman — to win Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for her work on her latest project. Coppola, along with her cast, attended the venerable festival for the World Premiere of The Beguiled, starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning.
Based on the 1966 Southern Gothic novel written by Thomas P. Cullinan (originally titled A Painted Devil), Coppola’s The Beguiled began its theatrical run Friday, June 23rd and comes over a decade-and-a-half after the original big screen version of The Beguiled (1971), directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood.
“The original movie is told from the male point of view, but I thought it would be interesting to go back and do the same premise but from the women’s point of view,” said Coppola in Cannes in May. “So I got the book and started to think about the story and imagined what it was like for these women at that time.”
Set during the Civil War at a Southern girls boarding school, The Beguiled is the story of a group of sheltered young women who take in an injured enemy soldier. As they provide refuge and tend to his wounds, the house is taken over with sexual tension and dangerous rivalries, and taboos are broken in an unexpected turn of events.
Until a recent screening in LosAngeles where both versions of The Beguiled played back to back, Coppola had not seen the 1971 version when she set out to write her screenplay, saying she did not want it to influence her approach. In Cannes, she said it was her hope both movies would be the flip-side of each other, telling the experience from the perspective of either sex. “We tried to [position] the female dynamic so that it had truth to us,” she said.
The New York Times observed in its review of the film: “The earlier film is a bracingly pulpy product of its moment, a time when American movies were breaking free of repressive codes and reveling — sometimes wallowing — in sexual display and rough violence… None of that applies to Ms. Coppola’s film, which is less interested in battling repression than in observing its mechanisms and arguing, quietly and unmistakably, for its virtues. Her “Beguiled” is less a hothouse flower than a bonsai garden, a work of cool, exquisite artifice that evokes wildness on a small, controlled scale.”
“There’s a pent-up feeling together. No matter male or female, there’s a survivalist technique [happening],” observed Kirsten Dunst in Cannes. The actress starred in Coppola’s 2006 film, Marie Antoinette as well as her 1999 feature debut The Virgin Suicides. “Colin’s [character] just happens to be the object of all of our aggressions and pent-up feelings because he’s this new presence that comes in.”
Dunst along with Elle Fanning — who starred in Coppola’s Somewhere (2010) — and Nicole Kidman were quickly cast for their roles in The Beguiled as the project came together. Kidman said in Cannes that she and Coppola had dinner, and basically her involvement was a done deal. Colin Farrell, however, came on to play the lone male role following an extensive casting process.
“It was great working with Colin Farrell as our ‘token male,” said Coppola to laughs in Cannes. “He was a good sport about being our ‘object.’” Farrell picked up the joking thread during the discussion: “It’s been a journey to get here [laughs]. Many miles of road. Many corsets, but I was the token male. It was great [doing this movie]… So being around all these great women who are amazingly talented, decent and smart and creative and insightful was wonderful. I was spoiled.”
The Beguiled opens in four New York and Los Angeles theaters in its first weekend, but it will expand nationally starting Friday, June 30th via Focus Features. Despite what the filmmaking team deemed, “a limited budget,” Coppola said it was important for her to shoot The Beguiled in 35mm film so audiences will have the full cinematic experience.
“I do hope people will go to theaters to see this,” she said. “I’m happy we were able to shoot on 35 mm. We shot it in a way [that is] specific to a theater atmosphere. In our modern lives, it’s so great to be able to go and lose yourself in a film. Being in a place like Cannes, it’s so exciting to have that.”