Beasts of the Southern Wild (5 out 5 Stars)
Directed by Benh Zeitlin (first major feature)
Written by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin (first screenplays)
Starring: Quvenzhane Wallis, and Dwight Henry
After missing this film in the theatre I had to pay to rent this because this was a film I was excited about seeing. As I hunkered down at my computer to watch the film, I was enveloped in one of the most engrossing and emotional films this year. Beasts of the Southern Wild is in fact the most beautifully lyrical film the year!
Beasts follows the story of a young girl Hushpuppy (Wallis) and her father Wink (Henry) who live in the most southern tip of Louisiana Bayou, entitled the Bathtub, which is cut off from the rest of the world. As the ice caps start melting, and more and more storms hit the gulf, the residents of the Bathtub including Hushpuppy and her father are forced to deal with the changing structure of their home. Hushpuppy's mother swam away a long time ago, and all that she has in life is her father. As Hushpuppy's father teaches her independence; she is learning to be the the person her father wants her to be in an evolving world as he starts to get sick.
For Benh Zeitlin's first major feature film this is one of the most masterfully directed films. Zeitlin's work with the camera, and his actor's, none have which had done any major motion picture, have proven that the energy and heart behind a director can make a film. Zeitlin not only directed the film, but her helped write the screenplay, and helped compose one of the best scores of the year. As you watch Beasts you would imagine that Zeitlin is an experienced film maker, who has mastered the craft of film making and has been making movies for years. It's not the years that count, but the passion behind the auteur, and Zeitlin's work on this film is nothing short of masterful.
Zeitlin has created a world outside of our modern era, but builds connections that resonate within our current society. While many will draw numerous comparison to way the various hurricanes have effected this area, and the way our changing environment has hurt people all over the world, these facts are true. These natural disasters and our environmental problems have affected people in this way, but Zeitlin's direction, and script go much deeper than the simple evolution of the climate changes, but rather the effect society plays on the human soul.
Zeitlin and Alibar (both new to writing major feature length films) create a world that use archetypes that may seem as though they are something in which they aren't. Hushpuppy may have a father with whom most would consider drunk and abusive, but within this world, The Bathtub; he is struggling with the common human emotions of pride, anger, and the hope that he can raise his daughter to live within this world free of the society beyond the barrier.
As you watch Dwight Henry in the role of Wink, you follow him on a different journey than the one with Hushpuppy; she is our narrator, and you see the world through her eyes. Henry's performance as Wink a father who wants nothing more than for his daughter to be fearless, and brave, is one of the most heart wrenching performances of the year. Wink wants his daughter to be a bold brave independent person.
Hushpuppy is wise beyond her years, but yet there is still innocence within her eyes. Much of the credit to her performance can be seen in one of the most beautiful performances from Quvenzhane Wallis. Wallis is a marvel; she gives one of the bravest performances of the year. At one point within the film Hushpuppy states “I’m recordin’ my story for the scientists of the future. In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.” Wallis's brave performance proves Hushpuppy is an adventurer a titan, and like many who traveled before her, she is the brave soldier trying to survive the changing of her own environment.
Hushpuppy exists within a world where she looks at those around her and wants to find a family, through love. Hushpuppy has been abadoned by her mother, sees the community around her disappearing because of the polar ice caps, and the weather, and she wants to cling to the love she sees around her. Zeitlin and cinematographer Ben Richardson help to create one of the most sumptuously visual worlds. As you look at things through Hushpuppy's eyes you feel as though Zeitlin's direction knows exactly how to tell her story, and Richardson's camera work colors in between all the lines creating one of the visually stunning films of the year.
Beats is a work of visual beauty, and most of the message of the film is something beyond the words on the page within the screenplay. Whether is be a quiet look of Hushpuppy as she is held for the second time in her life, the haunting score from Zeitlin and Dan Romer as Hushpuppy confronts the beasts from the melting ice caps, or the stunning stills of The Bathtube from Richardson. Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the most emotionally grossing journeys on film this year.