Beasts Of The Southern Wild * * * * *
Director: Benh Zeitlin.
Screenplay: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin.
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper, Gina Montana, Amber Henry, Jonshel Alexander.
2012 has been a bit of an underwhelming year at the movies for me. So many films have promised so much, yet failed to deliver. It’s encouraging though, that one of the art-house films of the year comes along and restores your faith in creative and original cinema. “Beasts Of The Southern Wild” is exactly that type of film.
Based on the one-act play “Juicy and Delicious” by Lucy Alibar, this tells the tale of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) a philosophical little girl who lives in a rundown Louisiana town called “The Bathtub”. It’s a bayou steeped in poverty, yet brings a certain freedom to the villagers. Their freedom is compromised though, when a storm floods the entire area and kills the livestock, forcing the community to flee their homes in search of pastures new.
As we are introduced to our young protagonist Hushpuppy, we see her building a nest for a bird and before long we witness her holding small chicks to her ear to hear their heartbeat. In her own words “Strong animals know when your hearts are weak.” This is a child that’s completely in touch with nature. It’s this very understanding and connection with nature that makes her such a sweet and appealing character and one that’s a real pleasure to share her journey with. That journey takes shape in her struggle for survival and a sense of belonging, as her home is destroyed in a storm, leading her on her life-affirming travels that address the nature of family, community and the refusal to be defeated or succumb to the norm. This is a film about culture and the automatic assumption that those who live a different lifestyle (even impoverished) need to be helped or changed into a mainstream or industrialised way of living. Ultimately though, it’s a right-of-passage story about bravery and survival and an allegory for climate change.
It’s strikingly shot throughout with the camera rarely staying still, adding that all important, stark sense of realism, required for the material. This is a film that’s filmed from a child’s eye view and young Quvenzhané Wallis (who was only 5 years old at the time of filming) is absolutely outstanding in the lead role. This young, untrained, actress should not be overlooked when the awards are being dished out. Fine support also comes from Dwight Henry as her defiant, stoic and seemingly harsh father Wink. To think that these two performers had never actually acted before is astonishing. They both deliver some of the best work all year. There are also shades of director Terrence Malick (“The Tree Of Life“) and his fascination with flora and fauna and it also adopts his scrutiny of such things. Quite simply, this is a stunning debut from director Benh Zeitlin who’s not afraid to infuse his story with surreal and highly effective visual moments of mythical wild aurochs who pursue Hushpuppy on her travels. It manages that rare ability to balance fantasy and reality and does so with such poetic flair. There was a moment in the film where I thought it was losing it’s way and rushing towards it’s conclusion but this was short-lived; it soon got back on track and finished with absolute aplomb.
Throughout the soulful journey, we get to know and love Hushpuppy and in her moment of self-assurance she informs us “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“… How could we ever forget?
Heartwarming, uplifting and not without it’s moments of pathos. This is a film of purity and truth and one of the years very best.