“The Beguiled”

A remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film starring Colin Farrell, “Beguiled” is atmoshperic and Freudian,and a tad silly. Kirsten Dunst’s character is the least plausible. Why would a woman, who wishes to escape her claustrophobic five-student classroom, not act out when her lover is poisoned before they can run Westward Ho? Edwina (Dunst) was emotional enough when she pushed him down the staircase, emotional enough when he ripped her bodice of its pearl buttons. Can this lonely soul just sew his shroud without any retribution or outcry ?

“Character development” this critic screams, again for Colin Farrell, our Union mercenary of Irish origin, Corporal John McBurney. He is a wounded “player”, who plays all seven females, no matter their age with flattery and teasing unctuousness. He is not unlikeable, just into self-preservation and self-gratification. The women/girls are all beguiled as shown in a wonderful table scene where each try to compete for his favor.

The eleven-year-old mushroom picker, Amy, portrayed beautifully by Oona Laurence, is a picture of braided hair and sweetness as the apron-clad rescuer. Amy helps the leg-wounded corporal hobble to The Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies, where he is treated and allowed to convalesce instead of taken to a Confederate prison camp. The young Amy introduces him to her classmates: the musical Jane ( Angourie Rice), the bright Marie (Addison Riecke), the playful yet solicitous, Emily (Emma Howard), and the lusty coquette, Alicia ( Elle Fanning).

Headmistress Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) takes full charge. She is herself charmed by McBurney. One of the funniest lines,however, comes out of her mouth as she tells teacher Edwina to bring the saw and the anatomy book. Fear and prayer mix with suspense to create an odd tone here. Miss Martha feels driven to act. She asks for suggestions, and the girls by in.

The cinematography is pretty: all haze, Spanish moss, and wild garden. The school’s antebellum splendor is punctuated with six huge Ionic columns – all fluted and more welcoming than the monstrous, filigreed, iron gate. Shots of girls playing at the water pump, hoeing lackadaisically, hanging frocks on the clothesline, and singing in the candlelit music room are lovely. Director Sofia Coppola has an eye for the scene be it French lessons or firelight brandies. For me, Coppola elicited the mushroom picker in Truffaut’s film “The Wild Child”. Six Ionic columns with their staunch flutes seem to hold this edifice aloft. The females under Ms. Martha ultimately do the same.

1864 Virginia has these Southern belles calling the Union soldiers “blue bellies” and vocalizing that their charge could be dangerous. Rape and rapine are both feared. McBurney says that he is pleased to be a prisoner. This soon changes as he lay on their fainting couch. The sounds of water splashing and cloth being rung out, and the in and out of breath, soft hummings and giggles and window peerings set the stage, and remind us of the quiet of this century. Birdsong and cannon booms mingle. Cicadas win out, and rise again.

The corporal has lines galore: ” Tell me a little about yourself? I have never come across such delicate beauty.” If the roses and flowers of this school need trimming, he sharpens his tool to assist. “I have missed being with you”, our wounded soldier whispers to Edwina. He is found in Alicia’s bed before his words evaporate. McBurney’s leg is re-mangled when Edwina pushes him down the stairs. Once he awakens to his fate he screams the question: “Are you ladies learning about castration?” He shoots down a crystal chandelier in his fury, yet Colin Farrell does not seem like a real threat. The women are in control. As they wait under the Ionic facade, for the Confederate soldiers to take the body away, we wonder why they needed to tie the help sign around the iron gate. The women have this!

“The Lobster”

The initial shot tells us to watch for determined meanness. Who would shoot a grazing donkey amidst its family  in a place as peacefully idyllic as Connemara?  Whether we are really in County Galway does not really matter, but the upscale Cashel House-like environs sets up a bizarre idea where people who can not successfully find a mate get a last chance to do so before they lose their humanity and are turned into the animal of their choosing. The premise being that one may have a better chance at the mating game as another species.

A voice over narrative introduces us to  David   (Colin Farrell ) and his personal history. He was married eleven years then  divorced. His brother has been here before him, but he did not find his soul mate and chose to become a dog.   David  brings his bro, now a canine with him. Neither fair well.

The writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has been praised for “The Lobster”. Critics speak of the forty-three-year-old  as a  creative fabulist, but the lengendary Greek Aesop he is not. His  film’s open-ending is too ambiguous to give any declamation. Is romantic love a lie ?  Is it delusional to think that everyone must have a life partner ?

The worst proclamation comes as partnering ” matchy matchy” traits. Whatever happened to the old saw that opposites attract?  In ” The Lobster” there is no randomness of encounter. People with limps  and lisps are foisted together. The biscuit lady, the heartless woman, the ugly man, the bleeding-nose woman~ all have their flaws. While this can be humorous in a juvenile way, these pairings are never the basis for life-long commitment. When marriage is modeled, the hotel manager’s husband is willing  to shoot his wife rather than protecting her by giving his own.

One of the funniest parts of “The Lobster” was the hotel entertainment masking the instructional message. With subtitles like ” Man Eats Alone” versus ” Man Eats With Woman” , and “Woman Walks Alone” and ” Woman Walks With Man”, we get cliched warnings that look more absurd than commonsensical .  Our narrator, who turns out to be the short-sighted woman ( Rachel Weisz), uses the “she then told him” to hysterical effect. We have shimmering back strokes mixed with urban legends ,and rules  against masterbation and punishments like placing the offending hand into a hot toaster slat. On the last day, day 45, you are allowed to choose whatever you wish to do, but you are instructed to choose something an animal can not do.

Offbeat  and  creative, but rather lazy , writer  Lanthimos demands that the viewer do too much work. Yes, society places lots of pressure for people to pair up. And it is funny that this dystopian future tries to control the uncontrollable : one has a mere 45 days to hook-up permanently! But the ending is baffling. Does David use a steak knife to dislodge his eyeballs ? Does the now  sightless Rachel Weisz, previously the “short-sighted woman”, wait through endless refillings of her water glass? Does David come crawling back to the booth ? Does romantic love demand this self- multilation?  What does Lanthimos think ? He doesn’t bother to tell us.

The most understated acting or breathing I have ever seen in  Farrell. Lea Seydoux, as the loner rebel leader, and Rachel Weisz, as David ‘s rabbit eating girl friend seem to understand  their part in this half comedy half diatribe. I enjoyed catching glimpses of camels and gorillas walking through the forest, but winced at the dog and rabbit violence. The script was terribly fragmented and metaphors like digging your own grave made sense only if the premise is it is better to die than resort to  the bogus matching of traits. Cover yourself with soil ,dance in the woods alone, or kill whomever will be able to live better alone? I don’t like being given an assignment to figure out what the director ‘s intention is, and I have enough to think about without thinking of having a hot-boiled egg placed in my arm pit.