WRITER-DIRECTOR Sofia Coppola is only the second woman in the history of the Cannes Film Festival to be named best director for this smouldering pot-boiler, set in the south during the American civil war.
Told from the female perspective, it skilfully turns the tables on the battle of the sexes. It centres on an injured enemy soldier who is holed up in a reclusive girls’ boarding school with a group of sexually repressed women and young girls.
Based on the novel by Thomas Cullinan, it’s a remake of the 1971 Don Siegel film starring Clint Eastwood, with Colin Farrell as the Irish mercenary for hire who opens up a can of sexual worms at the school run by head teacher Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman).
A masterclass in simmering sexual tension is heightened by Philippe Le Sourd’s exquisite cinematography, with the numerous candlelit scenes creating stunning snapshots of a past era.
It’s a gorgeous-looking thriller, offset by powerful performances by Kidman, Kirsten Dunst as one of the teachers and Elle Fanning as a provocative, Lolita-style schoolgirl.
Dunst in particular gives the performance of her career as the kindly but downtrodden spinster Edwina in whom still waters run deep, while Farrell is on charming and duplicitous form as John McBurney.
He seduces them all but then finds himself in his own private hell as events spiral out of control.
There’s no exploration of the politics of the time — the power struggle of the sexes is the focus and, for once, it is a man being used and abused by women in a war context.
Coppola has reportedly been accused of whitewashing history for not including any of the black characters from Cullinan’s book and their lack in the film is explained by the line: “The slaves left.”
It might have made for a richer and more accurate drama if they had not.
But as an illustration of the adage: “Hell hath no fury like women scorned,” The Beguiled is a seductively provocative cautionary tale.
The Death of Louis XIV (12A) Directed by Albert Serra HHHHH THIS film’s title means, of course, that suspense is unavoidably absent.
Yet writer-director Albert Serra’s sheer cinematic brilliance means that his film — based on the memoirs by two courtiers present during the last days of the French monarch — grips from start to finish.
The Death of Louis XIV is about a man preparing for his own demise who lives in pain every day despite being the king and Serra creates a series of fascinating tableaux whose inherent drama is exceptional without ever resorting to smart-ass editing or cliched music.
Period detail and costumes, superbly photographed by Jonathan Ricquebourg, are perfect and never overwhelm the drama.
We share the dying monarch’s claustrophobia since, excluding a brief opening scene, everything takes place in his bedroom.
There he’s looked after by a doctor Fagon (Patrick D’assumcao) and he’s variously visited by his valet and courtiers, some of whom try to con funds from the dying 76-year-old, a counterfeit medic offering an elixir containing bull sperm and frog fat and, movingly early in the film, by the “dogs that I love so much” before gangrene finally claims his life.
Dramatic laurels go to Jean-Pierre Leaud, whose portrayal of the increasingly pain-ravaged monarch, his gaunt face surrounded by a massive periwig, is magnificent, moving and unforgettable.
He creates an an all-too credible character whose inevitable fate is subliminally signalled in his eyes in almost every frame.
Alan Frank War for the Planet of the Apes (12A) Directed by Matt Reeves 4/5
WAR for the Planet of the Apes is much more than the third instalment in one of the smartest and most thought-provoking blockbuster franchises this century. It’s a fitting closing chapter to a highly poignant story familiar to fans of the series. But what this latest Planet does is explore how it happened.
Andy Serkis, king of motion capture, delivers another astoundingly emotive performance as Caesar, revolutionary leader of the apes, who transforms from peacemaker to avenging fighter when his family is killed by a group of humans led by The Colonel, a ruthless military leader played to perfection by Woody Harrelson.
While the apes are thriving the human population continues to dwindle. They are being hunted down and many are killed by The Colonel’s men, while the rest are held and abused in concentration camps.
The only light relief comes in the shape of the adorable but hapless Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), hilarious in an otherwise bleak setting.
Directed by Matt Reeves, the film is once again a seamless melding of extraordinary CGI and a powerhouse script, in which the apes are believable characters who take on the qualities and moral values of human beings which the latter seem to be losing fast.
Darkest of the films to date, it’s focus is the battle to save Caesar’s soul and you can’t help be moved by these characters in what seems the perfect ending to the trilogy.
David Lynch: The Art Life (15) Directed by Jon Nguyen, Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Rick Barnes 3/5
CINEASTES will relish this undernourished biography of the feted auteur of films such as Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive, The Elephant Man and TV’s Twin Peaks.
Non-worshippers, however, should wait for it on TV.
The directors’ mission is to chart an intimate journey through the formative years of Lynch’s life and, while never tedious, it’s a voyage which frequently promises more than it delivers.
Lynch talks us through his childhood in small-town America, creating fascinating paintings, spending time at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and moving on to moving images on film and subsequent cinematic fame.
Unexpected elisions include no mention of three of his four wives.
“Do you know what I really think?” he asks at the start. Chances are that you still won’t know after seeing the film. AF
Cars 3 (U) Directed by Brian Fee 3/5
AFTER delving into 007 territory in the last sequel, the Cars franchise returns to its racing-car roots, with the legendary Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) fighting off new kid on the block and racing upstart, the sleek, stylish and extraordinarily fast Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer).
There’s a lot of soul-searching as Lightning attempts to regain his mojo and stave off retirement, taking solace in his old mentor Doc Hudson’s wise words via flashbacks, voiced posthumously by Paul Newman.
Lightning is forced to turn to new trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) for help, courtesy of new boss Sterling (Nathan Fillion) who’s all about the branding.
Ramirez is a frustrated racer who never pursued her dream and specialises in working out with the latest technology. It’s all very much old school versus new but the problem is that there’s too much angst and emotional introspection. That may be great for the adults but there’s not enough car racing for the under-fives, many of whom seemed bored and restless at the screening I attended.
It seems this Pixar franchise is running out of tread.