The Beguiled directed by Sofia Coppola opens in an enveloping fog as the camera crawls through the gnarled and mossed branches of what is meant to be a Civil War period Virginian landscape. Despite the haze of the fog, the colors and textures retain a rich fairytale-like quality. As we move through the dense wood, we hear the eerie high-pitched tune of a little girl singing as she gathers a basket of mushrooms. The camera trails behind her ominously. She knows she has strayed too far from home when suddenly a critically wounded enemy soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell) emerges from behind a tree begging her for medical care. Following this reveal, it seems that one of the most conventionally frightful moments in the film has already passed. Indeed, Coppola builds the suspense of her film with a much slower burn than what is expected from a more traditional Hollywood Horror with over-the-top shocks. As soon as the opening sequence, she conjures fear in the audience through an unsettling atmosphere ripe with quiet suspense without relying on jump scares to do the emotional legwork.
Author: Chase Sui Wonders
Without the pomp of a grandiose opening shot, we are placed dead center in the fray of film Good Time, directed by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie. Stark fluorescent light floods the frame as a psychiatrist clinically interrogates Nick (played by Benny Safdie.) Nick is mentally disabled, and before he can make sense of the pain triggered by the psychiatrist’s pointed questions, his brother Connie (played by Robert Pattinson) bursts through the door.
Olivier Assayas’s Irma Vep begins with a jolt. An office whirs and buzzes with talk of budgets, location scouting, and audition tapes. Immediately, the audience plunges into a meta-narrative with various Hollywood tropes. This continuous opening shot makes its rounds about the office before resting on Maggie Cheung, who plays herself. She is the perfect subversion of the French ingénue. She is an established actress while maintaining an innocent quality. She is young but mature beyond her years. As the narrative in the film reminds us over and over again: Maggie is from Hong Kong, much to the dismay of the obstinate traditionalists working on the movie who would have preferred a true French starlet.
The scene from Max Ophuls’s The Earrings of Madame de… (1953) begins with the General (Charles Boyer): “But I’m warning you: she’s an incorrigible flirt. She’s an expert at asking men’s hopes. You know, torture through hope.” Through cheeky glances, the General warns Baron Donati (Vittorio De Sica) of his wife, Louisa’s (Danielle Darrieux) serial flirtations. Interestingly, this is one of the only direct characterizations we get of our protagonist. We do not know much about her—where she comes from or how she ended up in her deadlocked marriage to a man she seems to have never loved. The film itself plays on the anonymity and opacity of its protagonist by using an anticipatory framing device every time her name is shown. The viewer always just sees ‘Madame de…’ and never the full picture.