CANNES, France (AP) — “Sorry, we just really girled-out on you,” Kirsten Dunst says with Sofia Coppola and Elle Fanning by her side.
Dunst is apologizing for a tangent in conversation about the annoyances of period-accurate, braided hair. But she could just as well be talking, with comic understatement, about their film, the Southern Gothic thriller “The Beguiled.”
Coppola’s latest premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, rocking the festival with its female spin on a famed 1970s film with the opposite perspective. “The Beguiled” is Coppola’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 Civil War film starring Clint Eastwood as an injured Union soldier who takes shelter in an all-girls boarding school in the South.
The Siegel version, well regarded by some, is largely about the sexual power of Eastwood, who draws the interest of the school’s inhabitants, young and old — all of them variations of female stereotypes. Siegel once described his movie as about “the basic desire of women to castrate men.”
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Coppola hadn’t seen it until her friend and production designer Anne Ross called her up. “She was like, ‘You should see this movie. You need to remake it,'” recalled Coppola, the director of “Lost in Translation” and “Virgin Suicides.” ”I was like, ‘I would never remake a movie.'”
But the film stayed in Coppola’s mind, and she began thumbing through the “A Painted Devil,” the 1966 Thomas Cullinan novel the film was based on. She wanted to flip the point of view.
“That was part of the fun, thinking: ‘God, how would I do this movie,'” said Coppola. “The first thing I thought was Kirsten could be the teacher, Elle could be the naughty student. They’re like my favorite actresses and I wanted to see them together.”
Dunst has been a longtime Coppola regular, having starred in “Virgin Suicides,” ”Marie Antoinette” and even had a cameo in “The Bling Ring.” Fanning starred in Coppola’s “Somewhere” as the young daughter of a famous actor. Coppola thought Fanning, now 19, was ready for a more mature part.
“Since ‘Somewhere,’ Sofia and I have been like: ‘We have to do something together again.’ She emailed me about this. She said, ‘We can make you the bad girl,'” said Fanning. “It was my first time going without a family member, like my mom.”
“I trust Sofia,” said Dunst. “Sofia could give me that menu over there and if she said she was making it into a movie, I’d say yes. Not a question.”
The film’s lead roles are played by Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell, but Fanning and, in particular, Dunst, make for some of the film’s most resonant moments. In a morning interview in Cannes, the three — “soul sisters” as they described themselves — spent most of the time laughing with each other. At the end, Dunst stretched. “I’m laughing so much it’s making me tired,” she said.
It’s not hard to see their effort behind “The Beguiled” as a kind of feminist revision of male-dominated cinema. There’s something to that, they grant, but Dunst isn’t so sure.
“I actually think there were better roles longer ago,” she says. “They had such better roles than we do. I just watched an old Bette Davis movie the other day and I was like, ‘This movie would never get made.’ I actually think we’re lacking. There were so many better roles in the ’40s. Katharine Hepburn’s career. ‘The Apartment.’ ‘Harold and Maude.’ When can a movie get financed with an older woman who’s going to commit suicide?”
Coppola plans to let audiences compare her version of “The Beguiled” to its predecessor and make their own decision. She and Quentin Tarantino will later this summer host a double feature at Los Angeles’ New Beverly Cinema.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP