May 19, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Benh Zeitlin's first feature film is not a safe dip into a father-daughter relationship, but is rather a full-on foray into the tumult of their love for one another, framed in the hostile environment of the Bathtub, a region of the Louisiana Bayou that they call home.

The film takes place at a time when the Bathtub is in danger. The residents call it home, but after a horrible storm, the residents are forced by the government to flee. Quvenzhane Wallis plays Hushpuppy, the daughter who is often left on her own to explore her world, forced to cook and fend for herself as her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), goes off on his own. Hushpuppy is precocious, adorable and adventurous who, through voiceover, constantly tells us how she interprets the universe. Much of what she has learned comes from her father, whose beliefs are heavily rooted in his faith in his home and the concept that

Throughout the film, we learn about Hushpuppy's past and how her mother left her as a baby. She constantly seeks out a figure to care for her and treat her with love, often hearing her mother's voice in her head. Yet, she remains independent, and always prepared to take care of herself.

Wink, on the other hand, is often emotionally abusive and is a horribly unlikeable character, but Hushpuppy trusts and loves him unconditionally. Yet, we see throughout the film that the powerful facade he presents to the world is only a mask of his own insecurities, his fear of the world outside of the place in which he considers himself king. Even as he admits his own mortality, his home and his roots remain his only true comfort.

Death pervades the film like a shadow over everyone's lives. The text of the film is intercut with these massive beasts from a story Hushpuppy knows. As the Bathtub falls, the icebergs holding the beasts captive fall as well, and they run to the Bathtub in full force. The onslaught is inevitable throughout the film, except in the face of the courageous Hushpuppy, whose coming to terms with death is a shdding of her prior naivete. While this felt a bit like a desperate artistic touch throughout the film, I found that the ending completely redeemed the earlier shortcomings, actually making the beasts a critical piece of the puzzle.

The film itself is stunningly shot, full of gorgeous scenery, both of life before and tragedy after the storm. Each shot is carefully picked, and Zeitlin refuses to do anything half-heartedly. His passion jumps off the screen, with every detail serving as an important part of the story. The sound is actually incredibly well-edited, creating the illusion that we are in Hushpuppy's world.

The acting was unbelievable, with Wallis' stand-out performance serving as a promise for an incredible career to come. With her innocent, beautiful face, she played the character with such raw energy that it was impossible not to see her as Hushpuppy. Henry also emanated from the screen, a powerful and domineering presence at the beginning, who rapidly fades in strength.

Overall, the film was incredible, and ultimately won the Camera d"Or. It was powerful, moving, and brought tears to my eyes. Passion defines the film, and it is with adoration that  I give it an A+.

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