Monday, July 9, 2012
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)
When we first meet 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) in the ramshackle environs of the Bathtub (a fictitious shanty town on the delta outside New Orleans’ levies) she’s draped in ragged clothing, chasing chickens, listening to the heartbeat of pigs, and keeping a cautious distance from her surly father Wink (Dwight Henry) who lives in a shack mere shouting distance from her own. Years earlier her mother disappeared, and the girl converses with a distant lighthouse as proxy when she needs maternal advice and comfort. She also uses the inside of a cardboard box as a sanctuary, and on the sides of which she draws her brief history. The denizens of the Bathtub live outside civilized society and distrust it, but many abandon their homes as Hurricane Katrina approaches. Hushpuppy and Wink stubbornly remain throughout the harrowing, torrential onslaught, as do several others. The surviving residents wake to a world covered in saltwater and must adapt yet again. But after this high-profile natural disaster, society can no longer ignore the Bathtub. Director Benh Zeitlin and his co-writer Lucy Alibar (upon whose stage play “Juicy and Delicious” this is loosely based) immerse the audience in an alien yet fully realized world from the film’s opening frames. With the exception of Hushpuppy’s simple yet poetic voiceover, the characters have little time for introspection. They spend each moment preoccupied with survival. Zeitlin and Alibar allow us to experience this world through Hushpuppy’s eyes and, like her, we feel under attack when outsiders begin to intrude. The filmmakers indulge the girl’s childish flights of imagination, which provide a sheen of magical realism, all the while refusing to romanticize her hardscrabble life. Zeitlin coaxes a natural, often heartbreaking performance from the young Wallis, who carries this film on her narrow yet sturdy shoulders. She is matched by Henry’s unsentimental work as her father, whose tough love resembles recklessness at best and borders on child endangerment at worst. Zeitlin’s film is transporting, with haunting images and captivating characters likely to remain with you for days afterward.