The limp that mushroomed into a castration – The Beguiled (2017), dir: Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola’s new film tells the tragic story of eight people brought together by circumstances, or in other words tells the dark tale born by two opposing forces, the man and the woman, the sex drive and the suppression of instincts, the punishing control and the uncontrollable freedom.

b.jpg

The Beguiled is an adaptation of Don Siegel’s 1971 film of the same name, both based on the Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel “A Painted Devil”. I strongly encourage you to watch the original film, starring Clint Eastwood only to perceive how unsimilar can be two stories drilling from one source (with many of the dialogues and scenes found in both). The tone of the films is so diametrically opposite and feels like two people told you the same story but saw its characters in an utterly different light. The first person saw a school of sexually frustrated young girls and lonely hugs that stage a porn play with a wounded soldier at the lead and the second person saw ladies, frustrated with their drained of pleasure and excitement lives whose most raw and vengeful instincts get triggered by the seductive presence of a wounded soldier.

b9.jpg

The original film is eccentric, crude and gripping as it strips (literally) the heroines and villainises them either through their admittedly cruel actions or through their manic claim of the Corporal’s attention. Coppola wouldn’t stand for such a simplistic depiction of sexual deprivation and carnal desire so she created an adaptation far more fair to the female psych and libido. Elle Fanning’s Alicia is a teenage girl bored to the death in this cage of a school and filled with hormones in her stage of sexual awakening and not a slutty and persistent little devil, acting with the confidence of a much older and experienced woman (Jo Ann Harris).

In addition, leaving out several controversial elements of the first movie help maintain focus on the central storyline, such as McBurney’s kiss to the 12-year old Amy after he reassures her that she’s “old enough for kisses” (eh, pervert alert right there…), or the fact that Miss Martha’s late brother was also her lover (eh, brotherly love took a wildly inappropriate turn…).

b6.jpg

It is no wonder Sofia Coppola won the Best Director award in Cannes Festival, as The Beguiled is a masterful cinematic piece that gently pulls you into the world of these women.  The images of the countryside with the misty landscapes and the  ghost-like whipping willows surrounding the school of white marble in classical architectural style alternate with the claustrophobic scenes that find  its inhabitants interacting under the mysterious candle light (choosing a shorter aspect ratio, resembling a box in order to transit the sense of entrapment).

The film tells the story laconically (94 minutes to be precise) and yet, achieves a deeper character analysis than the 1971 feature. The narrative develops in a perfect circle; Amy gathering mushrooms in the forest, McBurney being carried by the girls, the lens laid steady outside the main gate.

This version builds up a subtle tension in the atmosphere that facilitates our immersion into the era and the psych of those women. The stylised environment, the purity of nature and the beauty and innocence of the girls as demonstrated by their manners, their clothes and their lessons makes the unescapable decay even more painful.

b7.jpg

This adaptation of The Beguiled is elegant and flows with the ease of a fairytale on screen despite it being a dark and emotionally dry one. There isn’t enough drama stemming from the unfortunate sequence of events but the tension and tragic irony are effectively communicated. A great part in that plays the lack of a soundtrack, as the story is told in the silence of the Virginian countryside, with only the sound of nature (birds, wind, etc.) and the violent echo of cannons dressing the images.

There are comical elements dispersed into the narrative and the depiction of the characters too. For instance, Edwina in her silent torment and lazy movements may come across less tragic than intended and Miss Martha, being so self-conflicted and always pretending to be composed, blunt and austere might make you laugh. That is not to say that Nicole Kidman’s portrayal is a caricature of a religious, old maid. On the contrary, it is a flawless one and that’s why in her desperate state, we can perceive her repressed sensitivity as well as the ridiculousness of her behaviour.

Colin Farrell is an exceptional and gifted performer that can incorporate sensitivity, anger, pain and laughter in his act. His McBurney is particularly chivalrous and charming but also, a true chameleon that becomes instantly aware that his survival is strictly dependent on him choosing the right shades of colours to match the diverse expectations of his interlocutors.

b2.jpg

The scenes you’ll love…

The film is emotionally flat and visually delicate, leaving you with a sensation resembling the clean and soft taste of vanilla, enjoyable but not strong enough for your palate. Nevertheless, there are many intense scenes that anchor this period fairytale.

In fact, the scenes that draw the dynamic among the women in relation to their handsome guest are a pleasure to watch. One of my favourite scenes is the apple pie dinner scene where all of them strive to earn McBurney’s affections in the most naïve and foolish manner.

The scene where Corporal McBurney attempts to get closer to Miss Edwina by diving into her psychological portrait and giving flesh to her fantasy of an empathic and romantic lover. The trembling hands, the facial expressions betraying her agony and the shattered voice when admitting that her greatest wish is to be taken away from that soul-draining place are only a few elements of Kirsten Dunst’s performance that prove how incredible an actress she is.

b11.jpg

Another remarkable scene is the bizarrely erotic sponge bath Miss Martha gives to McBurney. Nicole Kidman’s careful pauses and heavy exhalations show how incredibly hard is to be a constant judge of one’s true self. I wouldn’t say that Miss Martha is facing a dilemma because unlike Edwina, she made the choice between duty and desire a long time ago. Of course, her cold masquerade is in fact transparent and underneath it defenseless lay her needs and desires, ready to be triggered by McBurney’s presence and deliberate charm.

Towards the end comes the scene where Jon confronts the “butchers” and it’s an impressive and painful act followed by Edwina’s meaningful and passionate apology.

b12.jpg

So who is the beguiled in this story?

I don’t believe that the ladies are deceived by McBurney. They are all certainly aroused and seduced by him but it happened due to his playful nature and not with a malicious intent.

It is perhaps McBurney who should be considered the beguiled character in this story because he was misled by the graceful women who welcomed and admired him, only to wake up one morning with no second leg, or their sympathy.

I bet that the majority of women watching the film will sympathise with McBurney on how cruelly he was treated. Jon is man that received great attention and an equal amount of temptation so he acted as nature intended. He is not a bad man or deceitful but simply playful and flirty. The ladies however, turned from innocent admirers to vicious and “vengeful bitches” when he became a threat. Nonetheless, at that time women had no power to display and many hazards to look out for, and it is well known that fear mixed with frustration make the deadliest cocktail.

b8.jpg

Some might argue that it is self-preservation that led them to murder but it is certainly more than that. They had the option of reconciliation but instead chose to complete his punishment and send him off for the long journey.

The turning point for the tragedy was the decision to deprive him of his limp and the reasons behind Miss Martha’s action and Edwina’s silent participation are ambiguous. The amputation could be a metaphor for the castration that women secretly desire to perform on men as the apogee of their punishment for having been oppressed by them physically, mentally, socially and sexually for centuries.

b4.jpg

In contrast, it could be a broader critic on the cruelty and menace that rejection brings out in every human being, irrespective of gender. Men could have performed a different but equally harsh punishment to the woman who after having toyed with their feelings choice the bed of a much younger man. Similarly, had it been a male school and a Joanna instead of Jon, the antagonistic, young boys would have conspired to get rid of her after her fall from their grace.

b5.jpg

After the film you might want to talk with a Southern accent, eat apple pie or/and mushrooms, admit it’s useful to know how to stitch nice & even, look up how many poisonous mushrooms exist (and naturally, avoid them for a while for no actual reason…), you might be extra careful when walking up & down the stairs and finally, imagine an alternative ending in which the heroines decide they definitely need a gardener and also, learn how to share.

Advertisements

The ‘Doris, Rock and Tony’ Trilogy; three ‘delicious’ romanctic comedies celebrating the battle of the sexes

How could I describe how I feel about the films that this amazing Hollywood trio made together?  Well…

blue-cake-cupcakes-pink-purple-favim-com-416418

Cupcakes! They are easy, fun, smooth, sweet, old-fashioned, colourful and interesting-looking sweets..eh..films! Just like with cupcakes, you never realise how soon they are over, and you always crave more than one. You enjoy them with a hot brew, and they surely lift your spirits.

The “Doris Day, Rock Hudson and Tony Randall Trilogy”, as I enjoy calling it consists of three delightful, romantic comedies; “Pillow Talk (1959), “Lover Come Back” (1961), and “Send me no Flowers” (1964). In these wonderful, light cinematic creations you can expect to find; phone conversations, antagonism among the sexes, stereotypes, advertising accounts, intoxicating candy, annulled marriages, sexual harassments, divorces, pregnancies, moose photography, product inventions, classy and colourful wardrobes, bromances, funeral arrangements, golf cart malfunctions and many, many more memorable moments.

Pillow Talk (1959)movie-pillow-talk-big

Brad: Look, I don’t know what’s bothering you, but don’t take your bedroom problems out on me.

Jan: I have no bedroom problems. There’s nothing in my bedroom that bothers me.

BradOh-h-h-h. That’s too bad.

Jan Morrow (Doris Day), an interior decorator, has to share her party line with Brad Allen (Rock Hudson), a womanizing composer with a fetish to make long, romantic calls to his many lovers, to whom he dedicates the same ballad, changing only the lucky lady’s name in the lyrics each time. They are both single, independent and passionate; Jan is serious, hard-working, and composed, whereas Brad is playful, superficial, and afraid of commitment.

Jan can barely get a call through due to Brad’s endless calls and decides to confront him, and so begins their antagonistic relationship. The dialogue is quick and catchy, resembling an enjoyable ping-pong match (the usage of split-screens during their phone conversations were truly unique at the time). Being two strangers who fight over their line, and exchange ironic remarks, they have never actually met. One night, when Brad’s on a date with one of these delightful ladies, discovers that Jan is sitting in the next table. Knowing he stands no chance with her if he reveals his identity, he decides to pretend to be Rex, a Texan rancher who is visiting New York for the first time on business.

Except for the party line, the two protagonists have another thing in common;  Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall). As Brad’s best friend, and Jan’s client and wanna-be boyfriend, Jonathan interferes when he discovers his friend’s deceiving plans, and remains the most comic figure throughout the film (the highlight of which is the scene at the diner with a crying Jan, in my opinion…). Jonathan is a rich, spoilt, sweet, spontaneous and goofy boy who employs a hilarious deep-voice to project the serious image of authority and prestige.

pillow-talk-1

The story is simple and the ending predictable, but sharing a party line serves as a convenient and yet, pretty original storytelling mechanism and won the film the Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay). Rock and Doris are a radiant couple on-screen, as a result of their captivating chemistry that is both visual and intellectual. They are arguably more shiny and sophisticated than the average couple you see on the street but it is as if their real-life friendship Doris and Rock had is transparent through their characters on-screen, making them the coolest and funniest couples in Hollywood comedy.

The film managed to transform Doris’s image from the ‘girl-next-door’ to the ‘classy, independent and sex symbol’ of her era, and the legendary costume designer Jean Louis played a major role in that. Pillow Talk was also Rock’s first break from melodramas, and revealed his potential to do comedy, which is unexpectedly natural and refreshing. Doris’s shocked goggling and Rock’s sweet smirk become their comic signature that spreads laughter. Even after having watched the film several times, Brad’s masquerade still gives me a good laugh, and especially Rock’s imitation of the accent and macho-ways of a Texan man.

Lover Come Back (1961)

lover-come-back0-none

Carol Templeton: You kissed me and I was thrilled!

Jerry Webster: A kiss? What does that prove? It’s like finding out you can light a stove. It doesn’t make you a cook.

Jerry Webster (Rock Hudson) and Carol Templeton (Doris Day) are both Account Executives working in rival advertising agencies in Madison Avenue. Jerry’s unethical tactic of winning clients over is relied on partying, drinking and visiting strip clubs with them, which comes in complete contrast with Carol’s work ethic and thus, makes him a despised figure in her eyes.

The main idea behind the film doesn’t differentiate from that of Pillow Talk as mistaken identity works once again as a key plot device. The two characters have never met, and a simple circumstantial accident gives Jerry the chance to masquerade this times as a Nobel Prize-winner chemist, Dr. Linus Tyler who is the inventor of a promising new product for Jerry’s agency. Carol jumps at the opportunity to steal the account by trying everything to please the sensitive, intellectual, and too innocent scientist.

Irene, the Award-nominated costume designer for her work in B.F.’s Daughter (1948) and Midnight Lace (1960), created Carol’s wardrobe as a favour to her close friend Doris Day. Irene was one of the greatest fashion designers of old Hollywood and has dressed  Ginger Rogers in Shall We Dance (1937), Constance Bennett in Topper (1937), Carole Lombard in To Be or Not to Be (1941), Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), and Esther Williams in Jupiter’s Daughter (1949), to name a few.

Send Me No Flowers (1964)

send-me-no-flowers

Dr: Is it a sharp pain, is it a dull pain, or does it grip like a vice.

George: Yes, yes!

Dr: Nonono, pick one! 

George: I guess it’s a sharp pain, hurts like the dickens when I press it.

DrThen don’t press it!

In this one, Rock and Doris are no strangers bound by mutual contempt but a happily married couple; George and Judy Kimball. The only problem is that George is a hypochondriac who lives on countless pills, enough to fill an entire bathroom cabinet! George visits his doctor after experiencing chest pains and although he is reassured of his well-being, he overhears a conversation that leaves him convinced he has a terminal disease. After the initial shock, he takes it upon himself to makes sure Judy is taken care of after he is gone, which in the 1960’s naturally meant that she find a new rich and loving husband to replace her late one. So George attempts to find that new husband for Judy so that she doesn’t fall in the wrong hands and in all this he has his loyal friend and neighbour Arnold Nash (Tony Randall) by his side.

The film thrives off of confusion and a chain of amusing misunderstandings that provide a pure and simple avenue for comedy. The two funniest scenes by far are delivered by Paul Lynde who plays Mr. Akins, the operator of the funeral home that George visits to buy a burial plot (another business he had to take care of before his final hour…).