It’s so far so good for Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” at Cannes, which played well for the press on Wednesday morning. The movie is a gorgeously shot battle of the sexes led by the formidable duo of Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell (who both star in another competition entry, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) along with Coppola’s “Virgin Suicides” star Kirsten Dunst and “Somewhere” star Elle Fanning.
Writer-director Coppola reenters the Cannes spotlight with her high-profile adaptation of Don Siegel’s 1971 Clint Eastwood Civil War drama, based on the 1966 Thomas Cullinan novel. About two years ago, Coppola’s production designer Anne Ross urged her to remake the movie, a well-reviewed flop when released. Audiences weren’t ready for Eastwood’s tall, dark, and handsome soldier to be manhandled by a school full of vengeful women.
Judging from the enthusiastic press reaction here, they’re more accepting now.
Here’s what we learned at the press conference (check out my interview with Coppola).
Ben Rothstein / Focus Features
It’s about the women
“This story had to be directed by a woman,” Nicole Kidman told Canal Plus before the press conference. “The essence of it is feminine, it’s seen from a female point of view.”
At the press conference, she said that her schoolmistress is “is protecting these girls in a treacherous, difficult time, and they’re surviving. Her motivation is to guide them and protect them.”
“Any time a group of women is cut off from the world,” said Coppola, “different dynamics come out…I tried to put [the movie] out of my mind and imagine how I would tell this story and start again.”
Farrell added, “With repression, if there’s a blanket people find themselves beneath, there will be a heavy price to pay no matter the gender.”
“When you are dealing with people who are pent up together,” said Dunst, “no matter if male, female or mixture, something will come out. Aggressions and feelings are corseted up and get unleashed because this new dynamic comes in.”
“He comes in and ruins everything!” said Kidman, channeling the school marm originally played by Geraldine Page. “We were fine. All we couldn’t do was procreate. Good riddance to him!”
Coppola was also enthused to be reunited with her former stars, including Dunst and Fanning.
“I loved working with Kirsten and could see her as the teacher,” said Coppola of her casting process. “I always admired Nicole and imagined her as the headmistress as I was writing. I knew she would bring her twisted humor to the role.”
Fanning, now at 18, was old enough to play a young student. Coppola discovered her at age 11 with “Somewhere.”
“We were making the movie from a female point-of-view,” said Coppola, “that was part of the fun of it. The core of it is the power struggles between the male and female, which are relevant in a hopefully entertaining juicy story.”
Colin Farrell in “The Beguiled”
And one man
“I have a penis,” Farrell told Canal Plus of his role in “The Beguiled” as a wounded union soldier who a young student drags into a Virginia ladies school. “Treachery and hilarity ensues.”
“He was a good sport about being our object,” said Coppola.
“I didn’t have to worry about being the token male,” he added at the press conference. “I grew up with three very strong and brilliant and kind and smart women in my life, my mother and two sisters. To be surrounded by talented, decent, smart, insightful creative and serious women — I was spoiled by Sofia Coppola who set a particular mood of comfort, ease and trust. It allows you as an actor to play and explore.”
He added, “I have been doing this for 20 years, and it’s my favorite experience, my favorite shoot. She’s elegant and smart and has a gentility to her, which is not to say she doesn’t have an incredible creative edge inside. It’s nice to have that elegance and tenderness pervade the whole experience.”
Farrell never met with Clint Eastwood, who originated his role. “I had seen the film some years ago; I was deeply disturbed by the original film, it stayed with me. I said I was never doing a remake again, but when this came around it was an easy ‘yes.’ It’s a retelling or reinterpretation, which doesn’t mean it lacks originality. Sofia did something very original with it. Clint was extraordinary in the Siegel film. But I was able to retain my Irish accent, the character was an Irish soldier fighting from a mercenary perspective. It’s a bit of an immigrant story, he’s fresh off the boat, like so many of my countrymen who sailed to America to survive. That was unique to our experience of telling the film.”
“I wanted to contrast the very masculine exotic enemy soldier [who] comes onto this delicate feminine world,” said Coppola. “Colin is charming and charismatic, and I knew he would find a way to connect with each character differently. He’s connected to his dark side.”
Kidman rules Cannes
Coppola went to see Kidman in a play in London and had dinner with her afterwards. “She had this script,” said the actress. “You could give me the phone book and I’ll do it.”
Kidman wants to work with more women directors, she said, citing the grim Women in Film statistics for film and television (roughly 4 percent of major motion pictures were directed by women last year). “The important thing to say and keep saying is luckily we had Jane Campion here,” Kidman said. “We women have to support female directors, that’s a given. Now hopefully that will change over time. People keep saying it’s so different. It isn’t.”
Coppola made the film for the big screen
Coppola collaborated for the first time with Wong Kar Wai cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd with gorgeous results on “The Beguiled,” shooting in 35 mm. “He helped me to create the atmosphere and the world of the film,” she said. “With Le Sourd’s beautiful work, all of the work [in the film], I hope people will see the photography on the big screen.”
“Sofia Coppola was making this film for the big screen, in the way of framing, and all the things we do,” said Kidman. “At the same time, we need stories, opportunities and need things to be seen, the world is changing and we have to change with it. As an actor I get to work in all of the mediums. Jean-Marc Vallee directed ‘Big Little Lies’ for for the small screen. I have a foot in every area.”
She added, “I’m turning 50 this year. I’ve never had more work than right now, partly because I work in TV, and I work in films made for the small and the big screen.”
You can see both versions of “The Beguiled”
A double feature of the two films will play Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly theater in Los Angeles. “I’m excited to watch both of them,” Coppola said. “They’re two sides of the same story, flipping it on its head, I hope.”