The Beguiled ★★★★

A tour de force Southern Gothic that creeps up on you like the moss on the trees and the mushrooms in the forest, "The Beguiled" is a very fun viewing experience!

Geraldine Page plays Miss Martha Farnsworth, who rules her self-titled girls' school with a "gentle" iron fist. Amy (played by Pamelyn Ferdin) is one of Miss Martha's students, a 12 year old who stumbles upon a wounded Union soldier in the forest, thereafter setting into motion the plot and igniting the repressed desires of the women at the school.

The muted colour palette of the production design, the isolated setting of the colonial mansion, the stifling etiquette of the girls' lessons - all of these aspects hint at their uneventful existence (ironically in the middle of the Civil War) until this fateful discovery turns everything inside out.

In a way, Amy is responsible for the life of Eastwood's soldier, John McBurney, since she is the one who rescues and watches out for him. However, in a wonderful scene of symbolism and foreshadowing, we see how the destruction of Amy's "pet turtle" may seal his fate.

Gory and unhinged, threatening and yet delightful, Don Segal's film is a cult classic.

Addendum: I am really looking forward to seeing how Sofia Coppola handles this material. How wonderful that the second female in its 70 year history has been awarded "best director" at Cannes - first since 1961. I can see how this Southern Gothic would fit well with her oeuvre and accord with her style; plus I am dying to see Nicole Kidman play Miss Martha. Woot! I sense a double bill in the near future...

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