Dew seeps in the seams of weeping willows, betwixt the crease of aching thighs and nubile lips, and trickles, down umbrage, to the war-floor of deep south Louisiana. A girl’s school nestles at the center of the willow’s snare, half-isolated from the war, save for cannon rumbles, Confederate passerbys, and some odd left over that saunters in.
Amy, known to fray a dash too far from the coil, finds that union residual wounded in the woods. Despite sporting the unfortunate uniform, Amy sympathizes, and helps him to her school of girls. The soldier faints from the pain, and wakes up in a house of females. The girls, on either end of puberty, and these women, separated from their lovers, have performed their study in repression.
A forbidden fruit sieges the gates of their up kempt facade. That’s the wounded man, the liberal, the “blue-belly” nemesis who breaches the conservative grounds unconscious. Any fit male body’d do, it seems, to stir this stagnant order into a befitting chaos. Even Headmistress Farnsworth, the Alpha, weakens to him upon first acquaintance: scrubbing the dirt from his still-senseless body. Subterfuge! The sleeping man has the school girls turning in their beds. They start the next morning adorned for a ball and seize up jewellery from an eternity of neglect.
Upon consciousness, the espionage will come to foil. What he doesn’t understand of these women - and their easy advances - the gamut’ll pay for. Time in isolation and absolute routine has worn the women’s emotions to butter. Stiffened legs fall into emphatic curtsies, lashes into laconic winks, and dimples flick, to punctuate each girl’s rarely accounted for discourse with their immobile soldier. The male reciprocates it all, the en masse feminine attention acting as his lotus flower, and the school his lotus-eaters isle. The exception being, of course, consequence, and an almost opposite sense of immediate decline and degradation.
Here’s a classical set up for the perversity of human nature to read big and bold on screen. Coppola’s Director of Photography Philippe Le Sourd AFC frames for a stockier 1.66 composition, and her long-time editor Sarah Flack cuts tighter yet on puncturing instances of passive aggression.
Sexual tension and envy run rampant in these oppressive frames. As there is insufferable restraint embodied by Headmistress Farnsworth, there is insufferable control & Coppola’s most impeccable technique yet to evoke it. She exhibits such discipline that, when inexorable chaos ensues, the aesthetics still play cool by her established rules.
Coppola allows just one teasing flourish. The cut in, in a language otherwise defined by an obsession of manners. That cut in aggrandizes the revealing facial ticks to a potency past the facade’s threshold. Spiteful shadow games and their motives are revealed. She’ll play the card once in the chaotic segment to cut in on a chandelier crashing to the floor but plays the rest in its classical cool.
It’s in these flourishes that Coppola also reveals her interests. They don’t reside in genre, though it still makes for a fine exercise in Southern Gothic. They reside in human interaction, the big, vulnerable, desperate emotions vying with a deeply entrenched conservative demeanor. And, their provocation, a male that recognizes the susceptibility and pries.
Coppola’s reticence has lucked upon their most fitting circumstance. The hellish requiems screaming up from beneath a life’s worth of enforced tradition and good manner is never heard, and Coppola’s restraint never cracks. Agitation awaiting the anxiety to snap: unbearable! It only implodes. The lunacy’s captured with discipline, or not at all -- left off screen. And, in the wake of damaged souls only their formalism survives unscathed.