I was certain I will love Beasts of the Southern Wild - it's set in Louisiana, the place I love, it shows so much nature, which I love as well, and its protagonist is a child - as a sensitive person such movies usually move me to the very core. Unfortunately, even though I shed a tear few times during this movie, it didn't make a lasting impression on me. It's unique and interesting, but it doesn't have enough going for it to make me want to see it again or to leave a lasting memory in my mind, lasting mark on my heart.
The film transports us to a very strange and unique place - and though there are elements of fantasy in the film, as we see the events through the little girl's eyes - that place is very real. Hushpuppy lives with her father somewhere in Louisiana, in a place called Bathtub. They are poor, they share their food with their animals but they seem content - they seem used to their ways and they don't complain. It is unclear what happened with Hushpuppy's mother - the only thing that is certain is that she is not there to take of her. Little girl fascinates that she is talking to her and obviously misses her.
The girl's father is hot tempered and though it is clear he loves his daughter and wants to prepare her for harsh life, he is abusive and negligent many times during the movie. But that's the thing - the world we see here is so radically different from the one we live in, that I found myself rationalizing some of the things I saw on screen. In civilized world Hushpuppy's father wouldn't be a good father, but in this place? This cruel, dangerous place? He is doing the best he can. I'm not saying his behaviour is right, but I would argue it is justified.
Soon the storm hits and the father and Hushpuppy try to survive. They built a raft and visit their friends, soon they search to food, plant the vegetables, form a community that is set on survival. Another thing is that while we now where, we do not know when - there is a lot of talk about melting icecaps so the film may as well be a vision of near future.But none of this is very relevant here, as since it's the story told by a small child, we see her perspective of the world, her understanding and her vivid imagination.
At its core, all of the survival/natural disaster angle aside, the film is a tale of a little girl who tries to overcomes her fears and become stronger. Her imagination creates strange, big creatures that symbolize her fears. She draws things and tries to leave the mark of her existence this way. But she is still a child - there are many powerful moments when we are reminded of that, mainly in the moment when, like any other small child, she recklessly screams hurtful things toward her father.
One of the reminders to how much their world differs from the one we know is the scene where they end up in the shelter - Hushpuppy is wearing a dress that comparing to what she normally wears may be described as fancy and the others are being cared for by doctors. Her father and his friends take her away, because to them living in the wild is natural and this strange world they saw in the shelter is not.
There were certain moments when I felt the film was very exploitative - there were times that all I could feel was being scared for this little girl. There were times when I cried, because she was sad and missed her mother. Beasts of the Southern Wild is an emotionally manipulative film and I felt a bit cheated, because there are several sequences here, thrown in only so that they could mask just how much substance the script for the film lacks - it really seems like there are huge chunks of the story missing, what's worse - important ones.
Fortunately, there are many wonderful things in the movie, mainly performance by Quvenzhané Wallis, who for a girl of such young age, delivers very raw and powerful work. Wallis and
her mom admit that they fibbed about Quvenzhané's age, claiming she was
at least six years old, as required to audition, when she was only five.
According to director Benh Zeitlin, Nazie, as she is called, beat out almost 4,000 other area kids considered for the lead role. Her Hushpuppy is the beating heart of this film, that leads you through this incredible world and her emotions are so honest, it's really easy to be moved just by watching this little girl struggle and fight in order to find her strength.
Dwight Henry, who delivers great work as Hushpuppy's father, is also terrific. I was very impressed when I found out he is not a professional actor. Apparently, he owned the bakery across the street from the space from which the crew was working . Director of the film
posted a casting flyer in Dwight's bakery and,
after several weeks, invited Dwight over for a read. Two days later,
Dwight moved his shop to a larger space, and when the crew went looking
for him to ask for a call back, no one could figure out where he went.
Two months later, they located him, but he turned down the offer, as he
was investing all his time in the new bakery. Finally, every single
person involved with the film at that point showed up at his bakery at
the same time and told him he had to do the movie. Dwight agreed, as
long as they rehearsed with him during his midnight baker's hours.
Though Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the possible contenders for Best Picture nomination I feel it only deserves one nomination - for best original score. Not a single one of movie's powerful scenes would be as moving as it was if it wasn't for this amazing, heavenly music. It added so much to the film and right after Hans Zimmer's masterful work in The Dark Knight Rises it's my favorite score of 2012.
Another thing worth mentioning is the way the film is shot - there are many hand held camera shots but there are also fantasy scenes and shots of nature, wild and uncompromising, that surrounds Hushpuppy. The film definitely has a climate and you feel as if you were right there, in the middle of things with the characters.It certainly has the power to transport the audience to the world it shows, which doesn't happen all that often in the cinema these days. The film reminded me a lot of two movies I didn't love either - Where the Wild Things Are and Tideland.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is better than these, quite possibly better
than these two combined, but I wish it moved me more. Who knows, maybe
it will enchant some of you more.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
(2012, 93 min)
Plot: Faced with both her hot-tempered father's fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Writers: Lucy Alibar (screenplay), Benh Zeitlin (screenplay)
Stars: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry and Levy Easterly