5. Lack of a score
Aside from a few tracks composed by the band Phoenix, “The Beguiled” is mostly without any music. Adding to the hypnotic atmosphere of the film, this is a daring creative choice for a story that on the surface can only work on its manipulative strengths. But stripping the film of a conventional, syrupy or worse suggestive note appreciates its value further. It gives the films sexual and emotional tension room to grow.
Devoid of a score, the sound design gets to truly shine and provide to the audience invaluable insight into the vivid aspects of the everyday lives of the characters. Each ruffle of a dress, every creak of the floorboard leaves us reeling. You are given the gift of time to explore your perception of the primary players and the setting, and you embrace both the innocence of the women and by the end of the film, the brutality of their actions.
The dangers of creating a periodic landscape without not annotating it with music are fully exploited here, with the nearly silent scenes poignantly informing us of the dearth of life in the house, proving that the bold choice of not having a score pays off.
4. The costume design
Another element of the craft that effortlessly adds to the consciousness of a Coppola film is the elegant, subdued, by turns comforting and vicious costume design. From the shiny things the gang of “The Bling Ring” adorns to the thrilling costuming choices in “Marie Antoinette” which eventually led to an Oscar win, each film adds to its texture by fully inheriting its costumes.
The Civil War was still a period where women were supposed to be coy and “decent” and were largely forced to follow convention when it came to their garments. An off-shoulder dress worn by Kirsten Dunst’s character becomes so relevant that it not only adds to the tension between the women as a consequence of the presence of the soldier, but also lends an insight into the fulfilled life she led before joining the school.
The frills and the fabrics of the women’s clothes and even the blood-tattered clothes of Colin Farrell’s corporal are captured with marvelous purpose. Everything in this 90-minute film is there to tell a story. Why use lazy flashbacks and intercut voice overs when the image is enough to convey everything. Deprived of bright colors and unnatural shades, these images are resolutely bleak, but in usual Coppola fashion, incredulously beautiful.
3. The cinematography
The exquisite craft in a Sofia Coppola film is not made up only of an informative production design, a character-driven costume design or an atmospheric sound design. In fact, the most recognizable aspect of her work is the visual aesthetic which is as constant as her intelligence and as effective as her storytelling.
Too much has been made of Coppola’s focus on visual perfection, but “The Beguiled” should silence all critics of her style who accuse her eclectic frames to empty or devoid of meaning. Not only does it outline the authenticity of the other departments including the makeup and hairstyling, but it gives everything from the insects and the moss outside the house and the walls and floors inside a room to breathe.
It is as if they all come to life to tell the filmmaker’s story, fashionably and patiently photographed under perfect lighting, an art all too rarely mastered in films these days. It is heart-warming to see cinematographers return to 16mm, with its brilliant use in films like “Carol” and “Jackie” in the past few years. In all these films, these cinematographers are exploring its grainy lavishness and “The Beguiled” is evidence of how enthralling the format still is.
2. The writing
Hardly any writer is as secular in their treatment of story, characters and experience as Sofia Coppola is. She interweaves her singular vision with an airy level-headedness in her deft filmmaking style. Very few words are spoken in a Coppola film that stay with you, but her writing nonetheless has a flow so natural in its grace, you end up realizing how material it is to the film’s success.
“The Beguiled” is an adaptation like most of her films, and benefits from a complete reimagination of the book and the 1971 film based on it. There are silences added, and extravagant exploitation eliminated, causing a hypnotic surreal experience where each word seems to be worthy to hang on to and each pause a signal of great ambiguity.
This lack of clutter in the screenplay also benefits the actors’ performances. They are able to tell more of the characters through their eyes and make the audience intensely aware of every single person’s presence or absence, whatever the case might be. Coppola’s diligent script does only what it needs to do, because in a story as dangerous as this one, the wrong path is always just around the corner.
1. The authoritative direction
It’s not like Sofia Coppola has never been an authoritative filmmaker. The stone-cold visuals of “Marie Antoinette” pulsated with life but they were clearly perfected as well. Even the fluidity of “The Virgin Suicides” existed mainly to serve the story and cannot possibly be mistaken for amateurish direction.
With “The Beguiled” though, she moves to another legion of directors, carefully assembling a pleasant mirage of images, with constant intellect and verve. She moves her camera only when she needs to, boldly bathing you in the sheer desolation of the setting. She allows the sadness to quietly creep in, while moving in a perfect pace to let the story evolve most naturally.
She also controls much of the action with a fixed, insightful gaze, capturing everything without making the film ever feel overpopulated. Coppola very deservedly bagged the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival for the film, and the jury chose wisely – here, she stands as tall as Nicole Kidman’s headmistress and she has absolutely no reason not to.
Author Bio: Anmol Titoria is a student at University and has been writing and engaging in many a parley about film since he was in school, where he was responsible for writing the film column of the monthly newsletter. He professes his love for Kubrick, Bergman and Tarkovsky in ways so multifarious and with such alarming regularity that his family has considered throwing him out repeatedly.