Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Cannes Review of Beasts of the Southern Wild

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD ***** Directed by Benh Zeitlin Starring Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper,  Gina Montana 91 min, playing in Un Certain Regard There are many surprising things in this stunning film from up-and-coming American wunderkind Benh Zeitlin. But, if …

Fri, May 18, 2012, 21:59

   

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

*****

Directed by Benh Zeitlin

Starring Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper,  Gina Montana

91 min, playing in Un Certain Regard

There are many surprising things in this stunning film from up-and-coming American wunderkind Benh Zeitlin. But, if you’ll permit facetiousness, few are as astonishing as the news, conveyed in the final credits, that it is “based on the play Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar”. Whatever else you might say about Beasts of the Southern Wild, you couldn’t accuse it of being stagy. Few more brazenly cinematic pieces will come our way this year.

The film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Festival, is set in a near-prehistoric enclave of Louisiana called The Bathtub. Its protagonist, who shares a shack and a treehouse with her ailing dad, is an extraordinary young girl called Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis). Gifted a bush of hair and a preternaturally stubborn face, she narrates the film in the sleepy, poetic style of a voice-over from a Terrence Malick film. The Bathtub is so-called because it lies low in the ground and, as the waters rise, its very existence is threatened. Zeitlin is certainly prone to the odd emphatic gesture. In case we don’t get the message that global warming is afoot, he inter cuts scenes of pummelling rain with shots of icecaps falling into the sea. But this is the sort of film that thrives on creative extravagance. Every frame buzzes with the desire to amaze, dazzle and excite.

Events really get going when father and daughter are driven from their home by the swollen river. They fashion a raft from a disused truck bed and begin a journey to nowhere. The film is bursting with cultural references: Huckleberry Finn, the biblical flood, Heart of Darkness. But it has a southern zest all its own. The superb Quvenzhané Wallis gives us the best wise child we have encountered for quite some time. She is a variation on the face that stared out from a hundred news reports concerning the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The easy rhythms of her speech offer a gentle backbeat to the chaos billowing from every bayou.

And what beautiful chaos it is. Zeitlin is clearly a man who wants to get noticed. Scored to blistering, percussive music by the director and Dan Romer, the film finds space for wild parties, exploding alligators and the emergence of sinister prehistoric beasts.

If one were being picky, one might accuse Zeitlin of trying just a little too hard. But there is a point to all this. As well as offering a delicious audio-visual feast, the film firmly makes the case that those who have least to blame for global warming — those living close to nature — will be the ones who ultimately suffer the most. If we have to be taught such a grim lesson then this is the way to do it. We will hear more from Benh Zeitlin.

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