Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Beguiled Review

Sneaking into theaters in the middle of the summer, which is, as usual, a very blockbuster-heavy summer, is a little movie called "The Beguiled," directed by Academy Award winner Sofia Coppola. "Lost in Translation" was the movie Coppola won that award for and it was a best original screenplay award. "Lost in Translation" was also nominated for best picture and best director for Coppola and also gave Bill Murray his only Oscar nomination, which was best lead actor in this movie. Coppola has also directed "The Virgin Suicides," "Marie Antoinette" and "Somewhere." Admittedly I have some homework to do because I have seen none of these movies. Yep, "The Beguiled" is the first Sofia Coppola movie I've seen. And, well, after my experience with this movie, I'm really intrigued to check these other movies out to see what else this lady has brought to the table because I found "The Beguiled" surprisingly fascinating. But beware, this movie is very out of place in the middle of the summer as it belongs in Oscar season. If for some reason you walk in without having known anything about the movie and you're expecting another fun summer movie, you might be in for a bit of a surprise as "The Beguiled" is the exact opposite of a summer blockbuster.

The setting for this movie is the Civil War, about three years in, I believe. The entirety of the movie takes place at a girls school in Virginia. At this point in the war, tension is high and numbers at this school are low. In fact, there are just five female students of various ages and two adults. One day, one of the young students comes across a wounded soldier from the North and decides to help him to their place instead of leaving him to die. Given that he is on the enemy's side and is an adult male, not many are a fan of this decision, but they decide to keep him there and take care of him for the time being. With this being a period piece, the first thing that I thought of is that this could be a great candidate for a lot of the smaller awards such as makeup and hairstyling, costume design and production design. Such things can be easily overlooked when watching a movie, but I don't think it should be taken for granted all the work that goes into making this look and sound like we're back in the 1800's. You've got to build or find the right sets. You have to search for the perfect outfits and do the ladies' hair just right. Then there requires some skilled direction and acting to make each of these characters sound like they're in the right era after setting everything up.

If the casual person walks into your movie and doesn't notice a thing about this, then it's quite possible everyone has done their jobs right. That might sound a bit strange off the bat, but if you go into a movie set in the 1800's and are immediately immersed and convinced that you are in the 1800's to the point where the audience doesn't bat an eye, then it's perfect. If any of the sets, outfits or character portrayals stick out like a sore thumb because it doesn't feel like they belong in the era, then that's when people are going to start noticing and become distracted because it just doesn't feel right. When it comes to these aspects, this movie is seamless. I'm no expert in filmmaking, but I've taken enough film classes and other things of that sort to know that there is a lot of careful and precise work that goes into making a film. Thousands of hours with countless crew members are required to make every detail seem perfect. This craft of filmmaking is something that I think we often take for granted given how many thousands of movies we have been subjected to, with literally hundreds of new films being made every year. It's easy to sit down for an hour or two and totally forget how much work goes into making every single film that we sometimes quickly toss to the side.

I would be lying if I were to say I wasn't guilty of said actions, especially since watching and reviewing films has become a hobby of mine that I have dedicated countless hours to in the last five or more years to with this blog. Sometimes I find myself going through the motions and forget that people have spent months and years carefully putting together a film that I spend two hours watching and often throw to the side if it didn't do exactly what I was expecting or wanting to. It's a very selfish thing and sometimes I feel bad trashing someone's livelihood like that. Imagine if you spent a lot of time and effort putting together some fancy project that you are proud of and suddenly your friend walks up, takes one glance at it, and informs you that it is awful and you have wasted your time. Thus I am grateful for when movies come around that remind me of how brilliant the art of filmmaking is. Yes, I enjoy my giant blockbusters. I loved "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "Wonder Woman." I am stoked for "War for the Planet of the Apes" and "Dunkirk." But I often love the smaller, artsy films more than the giant blockbusters because they remind me of how great the art of film is and why it is completely appropriate to call filmmaking a form of art.

This is exactly what "The Beguiled" helped me do. Quite frankly, if you look at it on the surface level only, it is quite possible that this movie might bore you to tears. There's not a whole lot that happens with this story. These seven ladies are in a very isolated situation and in order to portray that, I believe Sofia Coppola purposefully crafted this as a lonely, isolated film. The trailers advertised this as a crazy, twisted movie that blends a period piece with a mysterious thriller, but that's not really what happens. I don't want to say the trailers are misleading, but I will say that this particular movie was a hard one to try to advertise and thus I don't really blame them for what they came up with because they had to do something to get people in seats and taking footage from the first half only might make for a really boring trailer. Because again, not much happens. The film is slow-paced. There's nothing too crazy or intense that happens. They take their time getting through the story. Which is why I say it's a bit out of place in terms of a June/July release because we're used to high-octane action thrillers and in the midst of them we have this slow moving drama about a group of girls who are trying to figure out what to do with this dude that's now in their life.

Thus as the movie slowly moved along, my full attention was elsewhere outside the story and the characters. The movie starts with a girl walking along a trail. I wasn't thinking to myself that I'm bored of simply watching this girl walk. I was fascinated as I listened to the sounds of her footsteps and I began to ponder as to what it took to record those sounds and how they must've carefully implemented those sounds at the perfect time during the editing process. This is a fun thing called sound editing and sound mixing. To the average person, they're just the weird categories at the Oscars that no one seems to care about. However, if you dive in and begin to study the sound editing process, which is followed by the sound mixing process, this is an absolutely fascinating process. Every tiny little sound in the movie has to be created in some way. Then those sounds have to be put in very carefully at the right place with the right volume so that it feels natural to the scene. You believe that the actress stepping on the dirt is what created that exact sound when in fact that was most likely not the case. If you think this sounds boring, then you should pay close attention to characters walking and what sounds are and aren't made while they are doing so.

I don't know about you, but I find it fascinating that I can sit and spend a whole paragraph or two just on a girl walking down a path in the woods. And I didn't even get into the camera work and editing, because that's fun, too. You can take a movie scene by scene and focus on each different cut. What angle is the camera at next. Where is the focus in the scene. We have the wide shots, the medium shots, the close-up shots. Sometimes we are in front of the girl walking. Sometimes we are behind her. Each sequence has a specific purpose and helps the audience focus on exactly what the filmmaker is hoping the audience will focus on. There's a lot of things that you can take from a moment that's so simple. Thus even though it seemed like nothing much was happening in the movie, I was completely immersed and fascinated because it's the sounds in this movie that become their own characters. When it's night outside, you hear the crickets chirping. When it's morning, you hear the birds singing in the background. Then as they are outside, you hear the distant sound of cannons and gunshots going off, reminding you of what's going on beyond this little school house where the girls are taking care of this mysterious yet friendly soldier.

You may find it curious that I've now reached the length of a normal review for my standards, yet I haven't really gone into much detail about this specific film. A big reason for that is I really loved how well-crafted this film was and I felt like diving into more detail than usual about this art of filmmaking because I feel like we often take for granted all the technical aspects of the movie that are required to make a film work and I really hope you've enjoyed this discussion about this because it's something I've come to feel passionate about. The other reason that I haven't gone into much detail is because the most interesting aspects of the movie when it comes to plot, characters and themes are in the second half of the movie and I don't really want to spoil the experience for you. The movie does take its time to get going and it also takes its time wrapping up, but once we came to the final scene and the credits started rolling, I became lost in thought about the themes that ended up being discussed and I was fascinated by the decisions some characters made. Yes, the plot is simple and the movie is purposefully isolated, but this is actually a very deep film with a lot to say. I really want to discuss these themes with you, but for the sake of not giving spoilers, I'm not going to.

When all is said and done, I believe that this is the perfect type of film to be discussed and analyzed in film classes for students who are desiring to know more about film. On the surface level from a casual moviegoer, this could be seen as a boring film that has nothing to say because nothing happens. But it's when you sit down and think harder about it while analyzing the various elements that went into making this film and themes that are discussed, that's where I feel this film blossoms. It's a wonderfully crafted film where the true beauty is in all the details. The movie looks and sounds flawless, which is a testament to the careful precision that had to have gone into every little details and every individual scene. While I don't want to dive into the second half of the film, I would encourage you to pay special attention to the score. I'd ask you to remember the time period that we're in and what these characters must be thinking. If you don't like analyzing film and you'd rather sit and watch a brainless action movie and shove popcorn into your face, then this might not be the movie for you. But if you're interested in using a bit of brain power to analyze what's going on and reflect on the themes presented, then give this one a shot. I'm giving "The Beguiled" a 9/10.

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