Emotional 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' is extraordinary
By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times (MCT)The Bathtub is a place of myths and wonders, a broken down teardrop of Louisiana marsh and mud in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and the setting for an extraordinary new drama whose fierceness, like its 6-year-old heroine Hushpuppy, grabs on and won't let go.
January 4, 2013, 3:35 pm TWN
Director Benh Zeitlin and his co-writer Lucy Alibar, a playwright whose “Juicy and Delicious” was the inspiration, have created characters that are wondrously indelible, distinctive of voice and set them inside a story that will unleash a devastating hurricane, and a flood of emotions, before it is done.
“Beasts” is both a modest and ambitious film. In a sense, it tells nothing more than a fundamental story about the bond between parent and child forged by the trials and triumphs that frame the process of growing up. But Hushpuppy's journey becomes a window into the culture of the dispossessed, the influence of a close-knit community and the empowerment that is possible when a child's imagination is encouraged to roam free. “Beasts” is yet another unforgettable cinematic treatise on the difficulties of childhood.
The story begins on an ordinary day in Hushpuppy's life, played with a stunning tenacity by young Quvenzhane Wallis. She lives in a jerry-built shack in a backwater bayou. It's raised on stilts in deference to the water that can rise deadly and fast. There's no sign of a mother, though her presence will be felt at every turn. Her father, Wink (Dwight Henry, a New Orleans baker making an impressive acting debut), lives within shouting distance in the rusted out shell of a bus. It is a reflection of the relationship — there is love, but a certain distance as well.
Hushpuppy is precocious, always wondering about her place in the universe. When not dealing with the gritty reality of the Bathtub, her flights of fancy fill the screen with magic, from the particles floating in the air to visions of the Ice Age and the long extinct Aurochs that Hushpuppy is convinced will rise again.
Wink is a wiry, irascible man who has a habit of doling out fatherly wisdom in impatient angry bursts. He drinks too much and laughs too loud and nearly always in the company of the other residents of Bathtub, a collection of hardscrabble types who end most nights passed out from the local hooch.
Hushpuppy is an artist of sorts herself, sketching out the events in her life on whatever surface is handy, always trying to get to the heart of things. The heart that is the most troubled is Wink's. His failing health, the approaching storm and why people choose to stay in the face of certain disaster will drive what happens in the film.
Although there is much about the real world that colors “Beasts,” the movie lives and breathes in fabulistic realms. Typical is an evocative scene that comes when things have gone from bad to worse, as they do several times. In this case, Hushpuppy sets out in search of something elusive, a way to fill the void of the missing mother. It leads her to a place of unexpected comfort that is wrapped in a warm gauzy glow.
Though the storm that hits the Bathtub is wild in its devastation, it is also a perfect one. For despite the travails, indeed perhaps because of them, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is infused with an excess of love and the unquenchable spirit of a young girl named Hushpuppy. ■
'Beasts of the Southern Wild' (南方野獸樂園) ► Directed by Benh Zeitlin / With Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry and Levy Easterly / Drama, Fantasy / 2012 / USA / 111 min. / English with Chinese subtitles / Now Showing / ★★★★☆