Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Film Review - Beasts of the Southern Wild

Welcome to the Bathtub population 87 located in a fictional condemned area south of a levee in Louisiana. The residence have little in the way of possessions and appear to wear the same clothing each day but they are very happy and have more holidays than anywhere else in the world. The area is always in danger of flooding being south of a levee a big storm would cause the area to flood due to lack of drainage. This is the setting for first time director Behn Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild. Zeitlin also has a co-writer credit along with Lucy Ailbar as the film is partly based on her  stage play Juicy and Delicious.

The film centres around 6 year old Hushpuppy ( newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis) lives with her dad in part farm, part junkyard open space.  Her dad Wink (first time actor Dwight Henry) lives in a shack and Hushpuppy has her own trailer. Hushpuppy is interested in pre-historic times. She makes drawing similar to cave drawings and after the local teacher / spiritual leader Miss Bathsheba ( Gina Montana) discusses ancient creatures or Aurochs.  Hushpuppy is convinced they will show up in Southern Louisiana and eat her in a couple of bites.

Cinematographer Ben Wilson does an excellent job with the film. Wilson captures many shots of the wide Louisiana sky and even though water is a deadly enemy of the community the blues of the waters almost link up directly to the sky in some scenes. Also featured are the wide shots of the polar icecaps as they violently crash into the sea and browns in the water when it turns against the community, its animals and people.

Hushpuppy and her friends are pretty much left to fend for their own in the community. The adults are hard drinking cheerful living off the grid and it appears that there are crawfish and crab-legs parties abound in the community.

The story moves between a linear storyline and fantasy. Hushpuppies Aurochs thaw in the south pole and begin a march to the Bathtub. Her father Wink goes missing and upon his return argues with Hushpuppy and in her mind is knocked out by her with one punch. Hushpuppy's mother has a legendary status to both Wink and his daughter. She is rumoured to have killed a gator topless with a shotgun and she was so sooth she could turn the stove on and boil water by just waking past. The narrative however is vauge on the location or fate of the mother. Hushpuppy has a Michael Jordan Bulls jersey that reminds her of her mom and carries around when she misses her mother and talks to it while alone at home.

The storm feared by the community hits with a vengeance. Hushpuppy and Wink ride it out in Wink's shack seeing that his daughter is scared Wink heads outside and fires his shotgun into the air in defiance of the storm.  The next morning the entire community is flooded and Wink and Hushpuppy head out in a pick up bed/pontoon boat to survey the community and catch fish bear handed. Wink tells Hushpuppy that he is her Daddy and it's his job to take care of her.

The State authorities eventually come to the Bathtub to clear out the community as the area is condemned. The group is moved to a community centre where they had access to medical attention. It's becoming clear to Hushpuppy that her father is ill and with her mom long gone she will be on her own.

The group make a break and head back to the Bathtub where they make Wink as comfortable as possible for his final days. In the interim the young girls of the community venture out to a gentleman's club where Hushpuppy gets some motherly attention for a short period of time.

The backbone of the film is the score. Filled with Cajun songs rich with violins its the underpinning to the both the happy and festive along with the sad scenes. The opening fireworks festival features rich violins, horns, drums and piano. Accordion and piano lead the piece played in the gentleman's club as the local girls all find a bit of affection and attention that they are not able to obtain at home.

Quvenzhane Wallis is the narrator and main character in the film. She is in just about every scene in the movie. A grand achievement for a first time actor who was 6 when the filming started. Dwight Henry another first time actor and a baker at a store that Behn Zeitlin frequents is wonderful as Wink the rough and sometimes absent single parent who teaches Hushpuppy tough life lessons for an unforgiving world. An excellent first effort from director Zeitlin with fresh subject matter and a unique storyline. As Hushpuppy proclaims in a million years when kids go to school they gonna know once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her Daddy in the Bathtub.

A film that I can defiantly recommend.

*** 1/2 out of 4

Beasts of the Southern Wild | Behn Zeitlin | U.S.A. | 93 Minutes.

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