This post contains The Beguiled *SPOILERS*.
In May 2017, Sofia Coppola received the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director, making her the second female director ever to achieve that recognition. The film in contention, The Beguiled, is a re-telling of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film of the same name, based off the novel A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan. It follows a wounded union soldier who takes refuge at an all-girls boarding school, sending the girls into a sexual frenzy. It is Coppola’s most deviating film yet. But make no mistake, The Beguiled is absolutely a Sofia Coppola film.
The Beguiled is a southern gothic psycho-sexual thriller instilled with the same themes of Coppola’s past films. Her style can easily be defined by a line from her 1999 feature debut, The Virgin Suicides: “What we have here is a dreamer — someone that is completely out of touch with reality.” Coppola’s films are rich with gorgeous pastel, dream-like imagery but maintain an atmosphere of pervasive sadness. I call it bubblegum melancholy. From the Lisbon sisters in The Virgin Suicides, to Charlotte in Lost in Translation; the wannabe teen queens in The Bling Ring and literal teen queen Marie Antoinette, Coppola’s protagonists are often young women in transition, dealing with feelings of isolation and stilled ambition.
Although they seem content at first, the women in The Beguiled suffer a great deal of loss and loneliness over the men in their lives due to the nature of the war. At the arrival of Colin Farrell’s Corporal McBurney, the girls are suddenly overcome with hunger and desire. Miss Edwina (played by Coppola’s muse Kirsten Dunst) goes so far as to admit that she dreams of running away from the school. *Spoilers* When McBurney and Edwina have sex, he rips the buttons right off her corset — sending them flying across the screen — symbolizing her relief of no longer feeling suffocated.
Coppola examines her characters’ feelings not with words, but with the way she frames her shots. In fact, her scripts don’t contain much dialogue at all. One of Coppola’s signature shots is a longing stare through the reflection of a moving car window, indicating the characters’ disconnect from the rapidly-changing world around her. Coppola uses her visual style to challenge her audience to project their thoughts on to her characters — the same way a musician challenges you to decode the lyrics of a song.
She may be the daughter of a legendary director, but with a signature dreamy lens and fascination with the complexities of the young female psyche, Sofia Coppola holds her own as one of the great modern auteurs.