Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Beasts Of The Southern Wild

*****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

There's poetry, tough love and, above all, a fierce stoicism on the bayou in Benh Zeitlin's strikingly beautiful and haunting debut. In this forgotten, magic realist strip of the Louisiana backwaters, called The Bathtub, there's poverty too, but also a sense of community and one little girl who is tuned in to the heartbeat of her landscape.

"They think we all gonna drown down here," says little Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), moments into the film, "But we ain't going nowhere."


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This is the story both of six-year-old Hushpuppy herself - and her unconventional relationship with her sick dad Wink (Dwight Henry) - but also of a community, and perhaps even our world and our children's future, under threat from environmental change and a loss of connection with our neighbours and the natural world around us. As Hushpuppy tells us: "The entire universe depends on things fitting together just right."

What, Zeitlin's film asks, does "just right" actually mean? Certainly, letting your kid roam unfettered in the Louisiana swamps doesn't, at first glance, look like parenting as we know it, but though it is rough, it also feels real. Wink is coping with his own mortality and trying to instil in his daughter a sense of independence, however worryingly he goes about it. If the end of the world is nigh, then he is determined that Hushpuppy will face it head on.

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Zeitlin's screenplay was co-written by playwright Lucy Alibar, adapting from her play Juicy And Delicious and it's to both their credit that there is no trace of the confines of a stage to be found in the end result. Instead, they plunge us into the vibrant imagination of Hushpuppy. Her narration weaves through the story, a place where gigantic hog-like monsters roam the landscape and where she dreams of finding, one day, the open embrace of her long-gone mother. But it is also a place where America is represented by a gigantic, belching oil refinery and a Government that believes it can move people wholesale no matter what their wishes. As with Wink's gruff demonstrations of love for Hushpuppy, there is no room for mawkish sentiment here, but there are eloquent evocations of longing - such as a warmly realised scene in which a half-glimpsed woman makes a pan boil just by walking past it.

Cinematographer Ben Richardson uses the texture of his 16mm film to add to the rough and ready sense of the natural world, whether it is to render the dark threat of a storm, the ferocity of a fire or the simple natural exuberance of a little girl holding fireworks and running through the night.

The sound team, too, deserve praise for a soundscape that is every bit as visceral, close and real as Zeitlin's framing. Meanwhile, the design team have created a mythic feel that, though it offers wooden rooftops as spiky and defiant as the people that live under its protection, is also rooted in something organic and real. And, standing at the heart of the film are the glowing performances of Wallis and Henry - neither of whom, remarkably, had ever acted before but whose beautifully pitched performances also feel naturally borne out of the landscape. With its unbridled wilfulness and paradoxical representation of vulnerability and strength, Zeitlin's film is a joyous, stunningly original celebration of humanity, no matter what our faults.

Reviewed on: 21 Oct 2012
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Waters gonna rise up, wild animals gonna return from the grave, and everything south of the levee is goin’ under, in this tale of a six-year-old named Hushpuppy, who lives with her daddy at the edge of the world.
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Director: Benh Zeitlin

Writer: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin

Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry

Year: 2011

Runtime: 91 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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