Winner of the Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic) at 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and the Caméra d’Or (best first feature film) award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a totally unique tale of the most unusual father-daughter relationship. Check the review out after the jump!
Part fantastical Maurice Sendak, part magic and imagination, part Cajun culture and traditions – Beasts of the Southern Wild is a beautiful and fascinating film.
Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a curious, motherless 6 year-old girl with an often-absent father (Dwight Henry) who lives in an area called “The Bathtub”, a water-bound area in Southern Louisiana. The Bathtub is a ramshackle community, filled with people who have lived on the southern side of the levee for generations – they do things their way, honour their own traditions, and they don’t fit in with the “white” world, which is protected by the levee from the rising waters which threaten both communities. It is incredible how much care and detail has gone in to the creation of this world – it has such depth, and through the film we are given permission to explore many of it’s nooks and crannies.
The film is not told in a tradition narrative style – instead sequences and scenes are cobbled together in a haphazard way, which depicts Hushpuppy’s view of her world. Hushpuppy’s father is sick and her mother abandoned her years ago – she worries about being alone and about the impeding ecological disaster which she is taught is coming. When a bad storm destroys much of her community, Hushpuppy struggles to hold on to her identity and her sense of belonging – her safety. We watch as the community pulls together in an attempt to preserve their way of life (there is very much a nod to the post-Katrina situation in this narrative); and we see Hushpuppy slowly growing into her skin, and accepting the changes in her world.
This film is a visual delight to watch – the colours of nature are on show here, and like in Cajun culture, all elements of nature are celebrated and respected beyond all else – the earth really is the film’s palette. The enchanting soundtrack adds a magical quality; in fact the film itself seems to have one foot in reality and one in fantasy – this makes sense given the film is the narrated by, and from the perspective of such a young child. Incredible performances from the two leads ensure that you can’t help but be fully invested in their journey and it’s outcome.
While the non-traditional narrative structure is part of the film’s charm, it is also what stops this from being a near-perfect film. At times it feels like the film is going aimlessly from scene-to-scene, without any clear direction or purpose – the 2nd half in particular contains a series of scenes which, while adding more depth and layers to the world, don’t actually contribute to the story or the character development in any way.
Overall Beasts of the Southern Wild is a unique film which tells an interesting story from the perspective of one of the most lovable characters to appear on film in recent time – it is a heart-warming, magical adventure that must be experienced.
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Writer(s): Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
Runtime: 92 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: September 13 2012; USA: June 27 2012; New Zealand: No date set