Saturday, July 21, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild is pure magic

Beasts of the Southern Wild would look just as strange, unique, and wonderful in any other time as it does today. It's not just that it has a social relevance to it that it makes it such a powerful watch, but in the world of cinema, movies like Beasts of the Southern Wild always will stand out and come out on top because it's truly the work of an original voice----or original voices.

Benh Zeitlin has entered the cinema world with a bang. This, his debut feature-length film, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the Camera D'or at Cannes. It's not hard to see why. This film is just so out there and strangely wonderful yet its emotions and characters feel real and down-to-earth. Zeitlin is able to capture this secluded world, nicknamed "The Bathtub" with a certain kind of objective rawness that reminds me of Werner Herzog's films of the '70s and early '80s (if you were to exclude the more fantastical elements of the film).

"Beasts" takes place off an island of Louisiana that local residents call "The Bathtub". The island is located outside of the levees which means it's always at risk of being flooded or completely wiped out by hurricanes. It's so isolated, the people there basically only know each other. The main character, Hushpuppy, is a six year old girl growing up in The Bathtub with her tough, no-nonsense father who wants her to grow up to be tough so that she can protect herself when he's no longer around. When her father's health begins to decline due to a mysterious illness and a huge storm comes and does serious damage to the community, Hushpuppy is faced with the real possibility of having to take care of herself.

What makes this film so remarkable is the fact that it was shot on location with a very small budget and yet the performances are so strong. Every character in this film is played by someone who has never acted before. Quvenzhane Wallis plays Hushpuppy. She was 5 when she was cast for the film and 7 when shooting was finished. Her performance feels so real and natural, it's remarkable to think that those filmmakers were pretty much putting their faith on such a young girl's performance. Boy did she deliver. Dwight Henry, who plays her father Wink, had been working at a bakery across the street from where the filmmakers' headquarters were at. He only agreed to be in the film if they rehearsed with him when the bakery was closed.

Those actors, along with many other Louisiana Bayou locals who appeared in the film, helped give this film an extra dose of authenticity which took it to another level with me. It was very easy to get sucked into this little secluded world, caring about the fates of Hushpuppy and her father. This film truly represents the meaning of the word "independent." This is a film that essentially came out of nowhere with previously unknown actors and filmmakers and, for the most part, in an unknown location. What they were able to accomplish is nothing short of amazing.

Grade: A

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