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.

Beatriz at Dinner

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Beatriz at Dinner

Beatriz at Dinner may not be perfect but it is rare and powerful in an unusual way and well worth seeing. Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a multidimensional physical and emotional healer from Mexico with medical training and a great big heart. She has driven north to a gated mansion in Newport Beach to massage the grateful mother of a former patient. When her car refuses to start as she leaves, Cathy (Connie Britton) summons a tow truck and invites Beatriz to stay for dinner with the arriving guests.

That’s our invitation to a culture clash that is by turns horrific, funny, and tense. Three couples – the wives dressed in perfect high heels and silk, the husbands in immaculate business suits – and Beatriz in blue jeans and an old shirt. Two couples are indebted for their lifestyles to Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), a powerful real estate magnate who delights in recounting his African hunting adventures. Beatriz, who respects all life whether it is human or animal, is stunned and lashes out.

The dinner had begun as a typical upper level social gathering with conversation rooted in travel stories and random incidentals – anything as long as it never leads to an exchange of ideas or serious talk of any kind. The clothes, the stories, and the experiences are just another subtle form of competition.

When Beatriz’s anger at Doug’s killing of an animal turns openly raw, the others cringe and puncture the silent embarrassment with a few labored comments here and there. But the battle is joined. Doug and Beatriz are front and center in a battle over nothing less than the value of life itself while the others sit in mortified silence. Beatriz erupts, “Doug, try healing something; destroy the source of the suffering.”

Writer Mike White has written a script full of unexpected words and actions and director Miguel Arteta has made sure it is all filmed with appropriate subtlety. In an age when wealth equals permission, Salma Hayek builds a case for a social code rooted in kindness and caring. When she is most upset, she turns Beatriz to stone and the film takes an unexpected turn.

John Lithgow does the nearly impossible in creating the real estate tycoon. Although he exercises his right to do and say things a rich successful businessman can do in a culture where money is king, he endows Doug Strutt with one quality that draws our interest. He listens to Beatriz and actually hears her. The man who dismissed her as a maid on first sight learns she is both smart and wise.

Writer, director, and the two lead actors carry the action throughout while their supporting players are fine at creating the grim essence of dinner conversation among men who have succeeded financially and the women who play the supporting roles in life and in the film. Watching Hayek and Lithgow tower above them in anger and despair is a movie lover’s dream.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Beatriz at Dinner
Word Count : 497
Running time : 1:23
Rating : R
Date : June 25, 2017

 

This review was posted on June 25, 2017, in Comedy.