In a sense, I’m glad I haven’t seen the 1971 film prior to watching Sofia Coppola’s version—the inevitable comparisons would have clouded my judgment and prevented me from seeing this work on its own terms. Because truly this is a fabulous and multifaceted splendour, so richly evocative of the bygone past as it is of amorphous gender constructions and motivations. I loved the slow-burning nature of the first two acts, and how the smouldering tensions coalesce into a riveting, darkly hilarious finale. The actors are all in tune with Coppola’s vision, bringing different nuances to the general palette, with no one stepping on toes or clashing tonally. Kirsten Dunst is particularly wonderful, exuding that kind of nonchalance that masks deeper wounds. Nicole Kidman, meanwhile, has all the best lines, and so deliciously straddles the border between the drama and the camp of it all (the final dinner scene being the glorious culmination of her performance). Have to give Colin Farrell a lot of credit, too, for maintaining the ambiguity necessary for making his character largely unreadable. You understand the attraction without ever forgetting the danger.
Coppola, though, outdoes herself; the hazy, derelict vision of a once-idyllic state brought low is captivating in every respect. I’d imagine this would be precisely the kind of look and tone one would utilise to bring Southern Gothic classics like Faulkner and O’Connor to the big screen (provided they’re not in the hands of James Franco, of course). What I admire about Coppola is the steady growth in her aesthetic: an aesthetic that is always so uncompromisingly feminine, yet honest and vulnerable, as well. It may not lead to masterpieces every step of the way, but she’s refined her craft to an incredible degree over the years since Lost in Translation and The Virgin Suicides, and The Beguiled is the most convincing evidence of that refinement to date. I really wish I had even a sliver of her talent, to be honest. She’s really that extraordinary.