Monday, August 6, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Five-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis is the star of Beasts of the Southern Wild, one of many residents of the Louisiana bayou country cast in this film.
***1/2 out of ****

Beasts of the Southern Wild looked like a film with a foreboding atmosphere in it's trailer and it is. Maybe more than I thought it would be. It's still not nearly as despairing as The Road. This film is a pre-apocalyptic drama that is very inspired by the devastation of Katrina so it feels real and relevant. It's about a community of people who live in the flooded territory past the levies in the bayou area. Due to climate change, the water has been rising more and more over the years. It is all told from a small child's perspective (who has tremendous screen presence) as she survives with her ill father.

I was, at times, reminded of Terry Gilliam's film Tideland for it's disturbing content from the point of view of a young innocent who sees beauty in an environment of desolation. After all, she has nothing to compare it with. It also calls back to Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven for the beautifully naive and sometimes awkward narration of a child. A cheap way to describe it, would be to say that it's Gummo meets Waterworld.

Check out Roger Ebert's review.

This film is unapologetically visceral in it's depiction of American poverty and it is daring you to celebrate with it's survivors, most of whom proudly embrace their independence (in a drunken stupor) from the sterility of the modern civilization that threatens to put them all in shelters. It's as if they are beasts who know that their habitat is threatened but don't want to be caged.

I could have done without the high level of handheld shaky-cam cinematography in this movie. Your average shot has enough chaotic content for the camera to stay still, I think this is an indie-film that could have benefited from steady tracking shots. It's still directed in a way that makes great use of it's inexperienced cast and real environment. This was also an ideal project to shoot on 16mm film, a format that's just as endangered as the film's characters.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a little vague with it's symbolism of giant prehistoric warthogs but like the real souls and uncomfortable situations this movie showcases, it is unforgettable. This is a film that leaves a very strong impression.

Here is an interview with the film's director, Ben Zeitlin, on All Things Considered.

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