Maria's Blog

Sep. 10, 2012 at 11:13am

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Strange and wonderful film at the Grand Cinema

I've been wanting to see this film for weeks based off rave reviews.

"Best film at Cannes." "...guaranteed to be some of the best performances you will see all year." "PHENOMENAL film from Sundance - the big discovery of this year's festival. Just incredible."

And I finally went to see it last night at the Grand Cinema.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" makes "Tree of Life" seem like a Calvin Klein commercial.

Both are dreamy, abstract, emotional narratives with gorgeous cinematography. Both are character-driven and sensory; less concerned with exact story, leaning more on impressionistic imagery. Both have moving voice-overs and the wickedly-deft, supporting actor of This Cruel World.

Where Malick's film is ethereal, dreamy, lush…Benh Zeitlin's film is forceful, messy and fierce. It's wildly imaginative. It doesn't fit in conventional categories, so it feels chaotic, defiant, strange. Set in a remote Louisiana coastal community, drunk with self-reliance and pride of place, menaced by the muck of love and nature and destitution, the film captures a way of life both stubborn and unashamed.

Other reviews are right: it's very hard to describe why this film is so amazing. The closest I can get is to say it's very raw and innocent at the same time.

It's the story of a six-year old girl named Hushpuppy and her father Wink, who live in the low-lying area of Louisiana just beyond the levee, a community called the Bathtub. There's moonshine and crayfish.

Scavenge the best elements of "Apocaypse Now," "Precious" and "Tree of Life," and you get "Beasts of the Southern Wild." (And at times, the sets look like rusted, precarious assemblages scavenged from "Mad Max.")

The first thirty minutes expose a level of squalor and neglect that is heart-wrenching. I never felt comfortable the entire film. It's not exploitative, but still painful to watch. Still, it's as beautiful as ghostly tree moss, heavy as a submerged Cypress branch. Using a boat made of a cast off truckbed, the film takes you into another world--dense, bent, foul, redemptive.

It's not just the story of a little girl and her dad, in their poor coastal community, facing devastation from outside and within. The film frequently transmutes into myth. The magic is in how we easily we surrender to the imaginative world of this child, a place where extinct beasts return and where an absent mom speaks through a piece of clothing.

Credit five-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis with an almost savage virtuosity, and her co-star Dwight Henry with eliciting both repulsion and compassion. It's a rare film that brings me on a journey so far from where I started in the first five minutes. (Meaning, "why did I spend $9 to watch a shaky hand-held camera document extreme deprivation?")

The accolades and reviews are right. (Several mentioned it was the best movie at Cannes). It is likely the most meaningful film of the year.

Sidenotes: the music is stellar. So beautiful I stayed to the end of the credits just to hear it one more time. The hand-held cam is annoying. It gets better after the first 20 minutes or so.

comments [1]  |  posted under art, film, Tacoma


by Maria on 9/10/2012 @ 11:27am
Has anyone seen this film? What did you think?