Monday, November 26, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
Language: English
Duration: 93 min.
Rating: 7.2
A six-year-old girl exists on the brink of orphanhood, in a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is the debut film from director Behn Zeitlin, co-written with Lucy Alibar, based on her play titled Juicy and Delicious. It premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and the Best Cinematography award; it also screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, where Zeitlin was awarded the Caméra d'Or for best first feature film, along with numerous other sidebar awards.

Set in the Louisiana bayou, on a fictional island below the water line dubbed The Bathtub, in a remote fishing community. The kind of place that's a paradise for the people who live there, and a dystopia when viewed from the outside. The film follows, and is told from the point-of-view of a six-year-old girl called Hushpuppy (young Quvenzhané Wallis), who is raised unconventionally by her single father Wink (non-professional actor Dwight Henry).

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

She's a fierce performer, no doubt, and her enormous screen presence is inspiring to see, but the writing lets her character down. Her dialog and voiceover are never really believable, too wisely poetic for someone of her age and background, and it all comes across as too calculated and too deliberately balanced on the edge of adorable to truly capture my heart.

However, Zeitlin does have an interesting storytelling style, and though I wasn't entirely taken by the specifics of the situation, or by the trying too hard, metaphoric fantasy elements of the main character's imagination; it is still an impressively crafted first feature. The dynamic way in which the scenes are paced makes the simple story seem more epic than it actually is, and there is an impressive amount of detail and care in the design and rendering of all the layers of this little girl's world.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

A world captured evocatively on 16mm by cinematographer Ben Richardson, whose handheld camerawork is rarely steady, not the kind of effort I would give awards to, but makes great use of lighting and the environment, and his vantage point is always strikingly suited to what's happening in the frame.

Though it didn't quite live up to the excitement or critical hype in either the emotional or narrative department, it's still a worthy debut that has its moments of visual splendor, and features a striking performance from Wallis, who stands out even in a year full of other incredible performances by young actresses. 
Bonjour Tristesse

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)


FrontRoomCinema said...

I loved this film. I cried and smiled throughout. :-)

d_4 said...

Yeah I saw this one (it's rare to have seen a film before it's featured here) and I was kinda let down. I mean, all I had to go by was the trailer and it didn't really say anything. I don't regret watching it, it just wasn't this stunning thing it was hyped to me to be.

Lisa Thatcher said...

I was let down by the hype of this film too. Its nice... very sweet... but hardly forging into new cinematic territory. Seen in the context of a début it shines, as you said in your review BT. I've read a bit about it being an allegory of post Katrina New Orleans which does account for some of the hysteria. The film improved for me when I saw it in that context. But still it is overladen with that appalling American sentimentality that they do so very badly. If that was toned down a little, the subtleties might have been given a better chance to shine.

Lisa Thatcher said...

It just kept reminding me of Mic-Macs. Another film I thought was pretty awful. :)

365 moviesandsongs365 said...

Part of me agrees with you that realistically a child would not think in that way, though I did enjoy the voice-overs a great deal. Perhaps it could be viewed as a fairy tale, things are not what they seem. Characters have special powers, which are non-human(the mother for example has a telekinetic ability in one scene). The line between imagination and reality is blurred I think.
A school of thought is that kids sometimes are able to notice things that adults are too world-weary to see, so I decided to perceive the voice-overs as an exaggerated fantasy.
If meant to be realistic, I wondered if the voice-overs could have been spoken by her when she was older, and thinking back? Not sure. I liked the film more than you did, and looking forward to a rewatch with subtitles.

ruth said...

I missed this on the big screen but I'll give this a rent eventually. The hype seems really big on this one so hopefully it lives up to it.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I think it takes itself too seriously for it to all be an imaginary fantasy world, and at the same time felt it wasn't daring or raw enough to be all real. I don't know if you've seen Rebelle yet, but there is a film I think got the combination of fantasy and reality right. It also has a more convincing voice-over from its young protagonist.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Hype is a dangerous thing. Hopefully you'll enjoy it more than I. Thanks for stopping by, Ruth.

365 moviesandsongs365 said...

hmm, I guess the voice-over will divide audiences. I'll check the trailer of Rebelle, you mean the Canadian foreign language entry for the 2013 oscars, directed by Kim Nguyen, right?

Nostra said...

I had mixed feelings about it. Some things I really loved, but others I just couldn't connect. As a first feature though it is impressive and feels very unique.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I came to pretty much the same conclusion. There's something special here no doubt, it's just not quite at the level everyone seems to think it is.

Nelson Zagalo said...

I saw the film yesterday, didn't had great expectations because of your post, that I read sometime ago. I was blowed away by the singular cinematic storytelling.

Sure that some parts in the movie were a bit too much, but by the middle of the movie you start feeling the theatrical fantasy setting, and you enter in the right mood to absorb. The group of people around Hushpuppy feel like a theatre company following and preparing the path for total focusing in the central protagonists.

The story is pure fantasy, and either you feel it, or you don't. I believe it also depends on liking the music and atmosphere to real let go yourself.

The singularity for me is the ability to merge theatrical play grammar with strong film grammar, creating something new.

Steven S said...

Finally caught up with this earlier tonight and it really shook me and my other half to the core, perhaps being a parent being the decisive factor.

It was not what I expected at all in terms of how the story unfolded but as you say it managed to produce poetical moments on a tiny budget. What pleased me most is the confrontation thrown at us by watching a black family living in what we perceive as the 'ugliest' of worlds yet the endearing nature of their love for each other shines as brightly, if not more so, than anything you can care to mention.

I was aware of this from Sundance 2012 but as usual chose not to read too much about what it was about, which I think helped in the end as I didn't sit down expecting the movie of the year. I think it would make my top ten for the year....but don't quote me on that!

Bonjour Tristesse said...

You are right, sometimes a fantasy scenario just doesn't hit the buttons for whatever reason. I think the theatricality is part of what turned me off. Lisa previously mentioned below that it reminded her of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Micmacs, and I think the comparison is spot on. It's another film 'you either feel, or you don't'.

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Nelson.

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