Monday, February 4, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild, or How Hushpuppy's bathtub puts a spell on you

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
Written by: Benh Zeitlin & Lucy Alibar
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis & Dwight Henry.

Oscar Nominations:
Best Adapted Screenplay (Benh Zeitlin & Lucy Alibar), Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis), Best Director (Benh Zeitlin) & Best Picture.

The little Sundance film that could is the most improbable Best Picture nominee (give or take a Haneke French-language film) but that is a testament to the wondrous spell this magical realist take on post-Katrina puts on you. Most of that is due to the central firecracker of its protagonist. As we hear in her own voice-over: "There once was a Hushpuppy who lived with her Daddy in the Bathtub." Her confident voice, paired with her expressive face and resilient body make her a thrilling character to follow as she grapples with an aloof but loving father, a flooded household, the promise of her mother's return and the prospect of a fateful visit from some fanciful Wild Things. Quevenzhané is a great find; her Oscar nomination, while thorny in that it rewards what is mostly an inhabited performance enhanced by her voice-work and Zeitlin's direction, is nonetheless a testament to her presence on screen. As Hushpuppy, she is preternaturally insightful; a child who knows she's only got herself in times of need, even when her boozy (and frighteningly if sporadically violent) father attempts to safeguard her. Drenched in the muggy world of the Bathtub (a mythical stand-in for the outskirts of New Orleans, which grounds the film in a concrete socio-cultural milieu), Zeitlin's film is at once a naturalist tale of an independent and charming child and a whimsical fable of a population forgotten. B+

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