BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in "the Bathtub," a southern Delta community at the edge of the world surrounded by water. Wink's tough love prepares her for the unraveling of the universe; for a time when he's no longer there to protect her. When Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature flies out of whack: temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. With the waters rising, the aurochs coming, and Wink's health fading, Hushpuppy searches of her lost mother, but learns she has to face the world alone.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Allegorical, wild and sometimes unfathomable, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a perfect festival film in that it experiments with cinema in its exploration of man's universe - from a rather doomed point of view. Central to the film is young Quvenzhané Wallis as the 6 year old Hushpuppy whose adorable face is framed in a mass of curly hair, all sitting atop her slight body. It's an image that captivates the filmmakers and is repeatedly the centre of attention.
But around Hushpuppy nobody and nothing is adorable to look at - or indeed to be with. Her father is a rough and hard drinking bloke, albeit well intentioned, and the neighbours are derelicts, misfits, proud loners who won't abandon the Bathtub even when floods threaten.
The message of cataclysm is a bit confusing, but it's coming. The future is full of dread of all kinds ... With the scenario often laid out by Hushpuppy's narration in a mix of childish naivitee and adult earnestness, we are sure that it will all end in tears.
Shot with insistently hand held camera - insistently meaning cinematographer Ben Richardson insists the audience are fully aware that the camera is hand held by use of maximum hand holding - the film has a jarring tone throughout. Exceptions are when he focuses on Hushpuppy's cute face - which offers us innocence, childish awe, childish anger, hope, yearning and finally determination. Wallis is terrific.
It's not a film I respond to positively, although I do find isolated observations interesting, or amusing, as in Hushpuppy's line during a hospital visit recalling her father saying sick people are plugged into the wall.
The film's ending makes it a hero's journey, the middle plays like an apocalyptic adventure and it begins as a family drama. Caught through the film's clutter is a vision of a world where nothing is safe nor permanent, and the best we can do is prepare to survive, to act like beasts, as her dad urges at one point as he encourages her to tear a crab apart with her hands. It's a lasting metaphor for me, and a moment of realisation for Hushpuppy.
Review by Louise Keller:
Making our own indelible mark is the message behind this extraordinarily moving portrait of a 6 year old black girl called Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who is facing not only the loss of the world in which she lives, but the loss of her ailing father. The potency of this story, set in the poverty stricken lowlands of the sinking Louisiana marshlands, is exacerbated by the fact that it is seen through the innocent eyes of a child and told in her voice.
Benh Zeitlin's directorial debut (adapted from Lucy Alibaris's stage play Juicy and Delicious) is a piercing arrow to the heart as he makes his poetic statement about the plight of the changing world and the integral meshing of all the pieces of the universe which need to fit together. There's something poignant about a little girl with soft frizzy hair and an inquisitive expression, saying that The Bathtub, where she, her father Wink (Dwight Henry) and the resident outcasts live, beyond the levee, is 'the prettiest place on earth'.
The laughter and genuine joie de vivre apparent in the ramshackle houses where its people live in squalor in the wake of Katrina, is greatly affecting. Hushpuppy and Wink live in a primitive kind of tree-house. The rusted back of a pick-up truck sitting on barrels is their boat and good use is made of it as the rains become floods and the levee wall constricts the water levels. There is no time 'to sit around crying like a lot of pussies.' Hushpuppy regularly talks to her absent mother (she 'swam away') as she records her story with childlike drawings. The local teacher tells the children the universe will be unravelled, as glaciers melt, the lands are swallowed up and animals die. Real or imaginary, aggressive wild boars with gnarled tusks are making their way as a premonition of what is to come.
The essence of the film lies in the relationship between Hushpuppy and her father Wink. Theirs is not a gentle relationship, with Wink quick to show his temper. Drinking is as part of life as it is a way to help cope with it. But there is another side to Wink, revealed through the invaluable tough lessons for acquiring survival skill sets. He shows her how to catch and fish, how to be independent, strong, determined and to believe in herself. In a gentle moment, as if telling a favourite fairy tale, he recounts the story of her conception and how her mother's beauty was such, she never needed to turn on the stove: water just started to boil on its own. He also has his own ideas of what he wants when the time comes that he can no longer drink beer and catch catfish.
Our hearts melt at little Quvenzhane Wallis, whose sensitivity, courage and instinctive strength as Hushpuppy affect us profoundly. Henry, as her father, is also magnificent; the performances Zeitlin has obtained from his non-professional cast is extraordinary. That hard-line policy for 'no crying', that Wink demands throughout the film is hardly possible to honour for any sensitive audience.
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BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (M)
CAST: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamale Harper, Gina Montana, Amber Henry, Jonshel Alexander
PRODUCER: Michael Gottwald, Dan Janvey, Josh Penn
DIRECTOR: Benh Zeitlin
SCRIPT: Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ben Richardson
EDITOR: Crockett Doob, Alfonso Goncalves
MUSIC: Benh Zeitlin, Dan Romer
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alex DiGerlando
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 13, 2012
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