Sunday, 24 February 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild, dir. Benh Zeitlin, scr. Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin, based on Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar, st. Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry

A kind of cautionary environmental tale/docu-drama amalgam, Benh Zeitlin's hand-held 16mm Beasts of the Southern Wild follows nine-year-old Hushpuppy (Oscar-nominated Wallis) and her Father Wink (Henry) as they live out their lives in a southern Louisiana bayou (known as "the bathtub" due to their isolation from others) against the backdrop of impending storms and encroaching invasion - both natural and man-made. Much has been made of Wallis' performance and it is indeed a magnificent thing, but it is her narration skills that really sell the actor's maturity. In quietly assured tones, speaking text that belies her tender years, Hushpuppy dreams, fears and hopes with eloquence and clarity. It's a bewitching portrayal. Zeitlin's camerawork is woozily up close and personal, but the sumptuous location-work wholly captures a world geographically and temporally disconnected from familiarity. Added to the documentary feel is Zeitlin's fantastical sub-plot about prehistoric cattle, their hibernation having been disturbed by melting ice in the Arctic, and their their long trek to the bathtub. Designed, I suspect, to interconnect with the film's ecological theme, this is one of the less successful elements to an extremely sensory film. That said, however heavy-handed Beasts of the Southern Wild can be at times in its themes of displacement, settlement and parenthood, it proves a winning balm to counter showier, more frenetic films of this nature.