Sofia Coppola’s version of The Beguiled, a big hit at the Cannes Film Festival, where she won best director, has been described as the most deranged episode ever of The Bachelor.
Coppola is OK with that description — she wants folks to see the humor in her take on the moody Civil War story of a wounded Union soldier cared for by isolated Southern women, first made as an exceedingly strange Clint Eastwood movie in 1971.
“I thought it was such a great premise — women taking in the enemy solder, Southern ladies, the sexual repression, the heat of the South, I thought I could have a lot of fun with it. The challenge was finding the right tone, balancing the humor and the drama,” Coppola said.
She cast Colin Farrell as the soldier, playing him as a charming Irish rogue and a fellow none too eager to return to the front — happy to be sponge-bathed by Nicole Kidman, to flirt with Kristen Dunst’s vulnerable spinster, even with a teenager (Elle Fanning). It’s all great fun until feelings are hurt and knives come out and body parts are lopped off.
“The [Eastwood movie] is one way to look at the story, but I wanted to tell it from a woman’s point of view. I found the [Thomas Cullinan] book, which is out of print, and it’s written from the point of view of the women, which gave me a kind of guide, although the structure of the book is very different. I needed to make it my own,” said Coppola, who shot the movie in natural light, with the deliberate pacing often typical of her work.
“We’re talking about women who’ve been cut off from the world, who have not had a man around in a long time. It’s more about how they react, and how it affects them,” she said.
Her adaptation is loosely faithful to the book but has eliminated a key character — a female slave — who shows up in the Eastwood film.
“I felt like the issue of slavery was too important to touch on lightly,” she said.
When one of Coppola’s movies is released, it’s often the only movie in theaters directed by a woman. Not so this year — The Beguiled is one of half a dozen current releases directed by women. One of them — Paris Can Wait, which recently expanded its successful art-house run — is directed by her mother, Eleanor.
I asked Sofia whether she sees things changing for women behind the camera.
“I feel like it’s always a struggle to get them made. That’s why I’m really glad to make this movie exactly the way I wanted to make it,” she said. “And I think it’s really cool my mom’s movie is out there, and that it’s doing so well.”