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The Beguiled

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Beguiled

Early reports promised that The Beguiled would be a top rank film from Director Sofia Coppola who was named this year’s Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. So off I went in happy anticipation that turned quite quickly to disappointment.

It’s 1864. In an old southern Virginia mansion that had served as a girls’ boarding school before the war, a handful of students, a teacher, and their headmistress are stranded because they have no place to go. The movie opens beautifully as a young girl is gathering mushrooms in a forest of majestic trees whose enormous branches shut out the sun. As Amy’s (Oona Laurence) peaceful walk in the woods goes on just a bit too long, we realize in scary anticipation that something is about to happen. It does.

She stumbles across a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) and helps him back to her school where headmistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), rebellious student Alicia (Elle Fanning) and the younger girls discuss what to do about this enemy in their midst. Miss Martha washes and stitches his serious leg wound and all agree they will shelter him until he recovers.

Still afraid of him, they lock the soldier alone in the room and decide to send him on his way as soon as he can walk. By then, the movie is wrapped in stiff formality. With the sounds of war in the distance, and a wounded soldier in their midst, it is almost laughable that teachers and students are dressed immaculately throughout in perfectly ironed long white dresses while they move about with slow formality. As time passes much too slowly forward, sexual attraction surfaces, then erupts. We welcome this last half hour because it punctures the stilted propriety that has enveloped us for an hour.

Sofia Coppola did interesting work here by observing the reactions to the emergency of three women of different ages. Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning react according to age but during the first hour they are too much alike, too contained for the audience to get to know them as individuals. We try but can’t succeed in piercing the prohibitive formality. Colin Farrell, on the other hand, is credible during the first half only to undergo a character change that, while understandable on one level, is beastly and prolonged on the other.

Director Coppola’s filming is grand as she creates the atmosphere of seven women isolated in the woods during the Civil War. The singing of the young girl who opens and closes the movie is extremely moving. For the first hour, the actors seem trapped in their silence while the whole goes from mild mannered propriety in one crisis to hysteria in the next. Feeling somewhat sad to be going against positive advance word, I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to talk about this movie lover’s dilemma. Am I crazy?

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Beguiled
Word Count : 491
Running time : 1:47
Rating : R
Date : July 2, 2017

 

This review was posted on July 1, 2017, in Drama, Western.

Maudie

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Maudie

Maudie is a beautiful piece of art that offers the perfect alternative to summer blockbusters. Director Aisling Walsh took elements from the work of writer Sherry White and stirred them gently until the whole quite literally silenced the theater. The elements: two astonishing performances by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, stunning photography of the empty countryside, and the deep sensitivity of director Walsh.

Sally Hawkins’ Maude is a woman in her mid-thirties who carries the physical effects of early onset arthritis and an early childhood illness that left her with a stooped posture. Fragile she may be, but she is otherwise sharp, shy, and uncommonly stubborn. Her brother (Zachary Bennett) has left her in the care of her poisonous Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose). Desperate to escape, Maud presents herself at the ramshackle house of fish peddler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) in answer to his advertisement for a maid.

Their prickly relationship develops through ups and downs as Maud paints pictures of all the bits of nature she sees on her walks. Her flowers will cover the walls, the stair risers, mirrors and all paintable surfaces in their house. In a relationship rooted in need, neither is willing to change. He gives her shelter and she keeps it clean. She has the freedom to paint the world around her as she sees it. He has a clean house and the uncluttered time to sell fish and firewood.

The needy couple walks separately and sometimes together along miles of a dirt road to town for the few supplies they can afford. It is then that director Walsh works more magic. The two on that endless road are small dots against the majesty of the landscape (Nova Scotia, but filmed in Newfoundland). Walsh’s camera teaches us quietly that no one in this area has money or material things. The glory of the landscape is not theirs to enjoy but to survive. With her silent camera, she captures the stark nature of their relationship along with the poverty imposed by the vast landscape. She never teaches. She simply gives us the beauty of the story in the quietest way. We are watching the power of serious creativity.

When Maud’s paintings begin to sell while Everett takes over a bit of her housework, she says quietly: “we’re like a pair of old socks.” In the simplicity of their surroundings, the only change will be the tenderness that creeps into their lives. Otherwise nothing changes the fact that they deal in basic necessities and with whatever lies unexpressed in their heads on those long, long walks. Maud sees the golds, reds, and whites that will become her flower paintings, Everett can’t say anything right, but we know he has mellowed just a little.

We watch two fine actors who absorbed all the subtleties used by their director. Together the three took us to a faraway place both physically and emotionally, and it’s a place we will all remember.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Maudie
Word Count : 497
Running time : 1:55
Rating : PG-13
Date : June 18, 2017