This month: Sofia Cop­pola’s South­ern gothic; Ter­rence Mal­ick’s love songs; David Lynch in pro­file

UNCUT - - Contents - michael bon­ner

The Beguiled, Song To Song, The Shep­herd, David Lynch: The Art Life

The Beguiled In 1971, Don Siegel’s Civil War drama The Beguiled starred Clint East­wood as a wounded Yan­kee sol­dier given sanc­tu­ary at a girls’ board­ing school in ru­ral Vir­ginia. It was one of Siegel and East­wood’s most un­usual col­lab­o­ra­tions – part Western, part South­ern gothic hor­ror.

For her lat­est film, Sofia Cop­pola has re­turned to Thomas Cul­li­nan’s 1966 source novel and mod­i­fied the story’s fo­cus. This time, the events that take place at the Miss Martha Farnsworth Sem­i­nary For Young Ladies are viewed from the per­spec­tive of the head­mistress (Ni­cole Kid­man) and her cast of fe­male teach­ers and stu­dents (who in­clude re­turn­ing Cop­pola as­so­ciates Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning). Cop­pola retains the genre trap­pings of Siegel’s film, but her in­ter­ests lie in the dy­nam­ics be­tween a tight-knit group of women and the desta­bil­is­ing in­flu­ence of an in­tru­sive male pres­ence. There are tonal shifts, too. Siegel’s film played as a lurid romp, while Cop­pola favours a lan­guorous, hazy tempo – closer, per­haps, to the woozy am­bi­ence of The Vir­gin Sui­cides or Lost In

Trans­la­tion. While East­wood’s cor­po­ral John McBur­ney was a cold-eyed preda­tor, his lat­est in­car­na­tion – played by Colin Far­rell – is cun­ning and cad­dish, work­ing what­ever an­gle he can for his own ad­van­tage. Poi­son­ing, am­pu­ta­tion and more fol­low.

Both Kid­man and Far­rell are on splen­did form. Kid­man’s Martha bal­ances her prim sense of deco­rum with grow­ing sex­ual at­trac­tion to this in­jured in­ter­loper, while Far­rell de­liv­ers charm bombs with max­i­mum im­pact. While Cop­pola spends much of the film’s early part lin­ger­ing on the mist wreathed land­scape and can­dlelit rooms, the third act tips into ripe psy­chodrama: “Go to the smoke­house, get the saw!” BABY driver It’s hard to imag­ine Baby Driver get­ting past the pitch stage with­out di­rec­tor Edgar Wright’s pre­vi­ous suc­cesses. Rather like Ben Wheat­ley’s re­cent Free Fire, it’s a pa­per-thin spin on a fa­mil­iar genre – played know­ingly when a more straight­for­ward treat­ment would be per­fectly ac­cept­able.

Wright’s film opens with an elab­o­rately staged heist. Baby (Ansel El­gort) is a young get­away driver whose high-speed es­capes are scored by a playlist on his iPod: “Bell­bot­toms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Ex­plo­sion; The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat”; Blur’s “In­ter­mis­sion”. Baby is part of a ro­tat­ing team of bank rob­bers – who also in­clude Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx – un­der the em­ploy of a lo­qua­cious crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind, drolly played by Kevin Spacey. You might think pre-ex­ist­ing ten­sions ex­ist be­tween th­ese crooks; you’d be right. You might also think that Baby’s plan to do one last job be­fore he’s out would back­fire; you’d also be right. And on it goes, what­ever. The ref­er­ences are Tarantino – the pas­ticheur – rather than, say, Walter Hill, Peter Yates or Sam Peck­in­pah. Wright seeks to dis­tract from the thin­ness of the plot with his fre­netic car chases and ear-pop­ping sound­track – there are 70 songs, no less. But is this enough?

A one-take shot, where Baby goes to fetch cof­fee for the gang and avoids a num­ber of po­ten­tially haz­ardous pit­falls, would be con­sid­er­ably im­proved by two men – per­haps played by Spike Mil­li­gan and Eric Sykes – car­ry­ing a lad­der across the road with a tub of white paint bal­anced in its mid­dle.

Song to Song Lately, Ter­rence Mal­ick has been work­ing to a theme. 2012’s To

The Won­der and 2015’s Knight Of Cups both fo­cused – if that’s the ap­pro­pri­ate word when dis­cussing the gauzy, am­bi­ent en­vi­ron­ments Mal­ick cre­ates – on part­ners wap­ping ro­mances. He re­turns to that set-up again in Song To Song, which takes place amid the mu­sic scene in the di­rec­tor’s adopted home­town of Austin, Texas. There, Mal­ick’s height­ened, melan­cholic rush of im­agery and po­etic in­ner mono­logues are in­ter­spersed with cameos from – hey, you guys! – Iggy Pop, John Ly­don and, in par­tic­u­lar, Patti Smith.

The film’s set­ting is SXSW, where Rooney Mara’s as­pir­ing mu­si­cian be­comes in­volved with both Michael Fass­ben­der’s pro­ducer and his pro­tégé, an up­com­ing singer­song­writer played by Ryan Gosling. Around this cen­tral trio a story – of sorts – co­a­lesces about young artists strug­gling to make their mark and in­ter­po­late their dreams

and am­bi­tions into re­al­ity. His leads are joined by a typ­i­cally starry sup­port­ing cast in­clud­ing Natalie Port­man, Cate Blanchett and – a stand­out – Holly Hunter, who plays the earthy, plain-speak­ing mother of one char­ac­ter. As ever with Mal­ick, there is the ten­dency to snig­ger at the unashamedly ro­man­tic, philo­soph­i­cal quest­ing. “Am I a good per­son?” asks Mara. “Do I even want to be me? Or just seem like one so peo­ple will like me?” But find the film’s pulse and it’s hard not to be se­duced by its fluid lyri­cism and the swoop­ing cam­era of three-time Os­car-win­ner Em­manuel Lubezki. There is much here that’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

the shep­herd For the first 20 min­utes or so of Jonathan Cen­zual Bur­ley’s ex­cel­lent film, you might be for­given for think­ing you were watch­ing a Na­tional Geo­graphic doc­u­men­tary. We see Anselmo, the tit­u­lar shep­herd, rise with dawn. Once his ablu­tions are com­plete, he heads out into the ris­ing son with his herd of goats and trusty sheep­dog, Pillo. In the evening, he re­turns home. It is a soli­tary, al­most silent ex­is­tence – the only di­a­logue is the gruff morn­ing greet­ing Anselmo gives Pillo. But by the end, The Shep­herd has been im­per­cep­ti­bly trans­formed into some­thing ap­proach­ing a thriller. A de­vel­oper of­fers to buy his land, but Anselmo de­clines – he has known no other life and, aged 56, he is not in­clined to change now. This ag­gra­vates his neigh­bours, who des­per­ately want to sell off their ad­join­ing plots. Anselmo finds him­self ha­rassed. Vi­o­lence un­folds.

Bur­ley – who also shot, edited and co­pro­duced the film – has done a won­der­ful job here. The footage of Anselmo, walk­ing the flat, un­for­giv­ing land­scape of Castille, is beau­ti­fully com­posed and filmed. Miguel Martín, mean­while, is splen­did as the in­scrutable Anselmo. The pa­trons of his lo­cal bar tease him for not hav­ing a TV or phone – in­stead he chats about Dick­ens with the town li­brar­ian, on whom he has a sweet­na­tured crush. It is very cosy, re­ally, un­til Anselmo’s neigh­bours be­gin to turn on him. Bur­ley is very good at shad­ing his char­ac­ters. Is Anselmo sim­ply in­tran­si­gent? Are his neigh­bours mo­ti­vated solely by greed? This kind of nu­anced film­mak­ing is good for the story. Bur­ley’s de facto bad guys – led by the lo­cal abat­toir-owner (Al­fonso Mendiguchía) – have their own prob­lems to con­tend with. Whether that ex­cuses their ac­tions, how­ever, is an­other mat­ter.

DAVID LYNCH: the Art Life Lynch’s work since 2000 has found the di­rec­tor slip­ping deeper into a cre­ative rab­bit hole. Since Mul­hol­land Drive Lynch has di­rected only one film, 2006’s In­land Em­pire, pre­fer­ring in­stead to con­cen­trate on ex­per­i­men­tal short films or, in 2010, a mem­o­rably strange Dior cam­paign, Lady Blue Shang­hai. Lynch’s re­turn to the main­stream with the re­vived Twin Peaks se­ries has been wel­come – not least be­cause it has found him once again grap­pling with wild fan­tasies and com­plex elab­o­ra­tions on a grand scale. Jon Nguyen’s fas­ci­nat­ing doc­u­men­tary un­earths the roots of Lynch’s cre­ativ­ity. In voiceover, the di­rec­tor talks us through his up­bring­ing in Mon­tana and Idaho, and his re­lo­ca­tion to Philadel­phia to pur­sue a ca­reer as a painter. While Lynch is usu­ally an enig­matic pres­ence, here he speaks can­didly about his child­hood bounc­ing around agree­able mid­dle-class suburbs – a sen­si­tive, slightly ec­cen­tric ado­les­cent, he never en­tirely found his niche un­til he turned to film. A move to Cal­i­for­nia was pro­pi­tious – Lynch based him­self in a set of dis­used sta­bles. “What a gift that was,” he says. “I could imag­ine a whole world out­side. It didn’t ex­ist, but it re­ally would be such a world.”

Lynch’s artis­tic urges were fos­tered by his mother, a pro­gres­sive fig­ure in 1950s Amer­ica. “I didn’t think any­thing of it, but I had tremen­dous free­dom,” says Lynch. Much of this back­story is il­lu­mi­nated by grainy 16mm footage and black and white pho­to­graphs, while in the present day Lynch pot­ters around his stu­dio in the Hol­ly­wood Hills, daub­ing muddy clay on a can­vas or sketch­ing with char­coal. His in­fant daugh­ter, Lula, makes a scene-steal­ing cameo, where to­gether they plant a can­dle on a plas­ticine birth­day cake. “Hot dog!” Lynch says.

The Beguiled tips into ripe psy­chodrama: “Go to the smoke­house, get the saw!”

For whom the belle tolls: Ni­cole Kid­man in The beguiled

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.