Monday, January 28, 2013

Once There Was a Hushpuppy

Directed by Benh Zeitlin, Written by Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin, ★ing Quvenzhané Wallis
2012, The United States

I first saw The Beasts on my trip to London last year. Along with THE PERKS, RUBY SPARKS and LOOPER, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD posters paved the city, and thus reminded you - wherever you where - of that magic world beyond reality that lies hidden in the dark room of one of the many London theaters. Living in a metropole, I guess you couldn't be not-up-to-date even if you wanted to. Subway walls, buses, buildings - everything is full of pictures of new cinematic, literary, musical and other experiences. 
That being said, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD wasn't one of the movies I was most drawn to. While watching THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER already in London and planning to watch the other two as soon as possible, I had almost forgotten about BEASTS when award season started. Being a little Oscar-obsessed as much as wanting to watch all nominees before the big night, BEASTS would eventually turn up on my watchlist though. And so I did watch it. And so I had a great night.

The story is some hybrid between fantasy and dystopian future, situated on an imaginary island ghetto called "The Bathtub". Near The Bathtub, there's a big city, protected against future floods by a big wall. Life is hard yet probably "normal" as we know if for the citizens, but we never do meet them. Instead, we follow the young and wild Hushpuppy, who lives with her father in one of the improvised houses of The Bathtub.

Joining the ranks of the Potter-stars as my favourite child actors, Quvenzhané isn't only the youngest actress to ever be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, but also one of my favourite performers of 2012. Just the other day, I was thinking about how male-centered many of last year's "big" movies were - SKYFALL, LINCOLN, LIFE OF PI, DJANGO... you name it. It was hard for me to think of persons to pick for Best Actress for the LAMB's annual Lion Awards, and now I'm uttely sorry I didn't wait until I had seen this movie. Surely, Jennifer Lawrence and Emmanuelle Riva deserve to be in that list and deserve any award out there, but so does Quvenzhané. I mean, she was just mind-blowing; 
At the beginning, she seems to be "just" another good child actor, but after a while you realize how incredibly awesome she is. Her animalistic anger and determination are so raw and feel so real - I can think of no other actress that displayed a female character in that way recently. Nor an actor doing it with a male character. And at the same time, she's a real child, fearing and sorrowing. Just not letting it out.

The rest of the cast also stands out (we've had a lot of great ensemble casts in 2012), with the baker Dwight Henry as the impulsive yet loving Wink (he had no primary acting experience), and Gina Montana as cheeky teacher Miss Bathsheba. What adds to the reality feeling of the movie is that none of the actors are much known, so they could just be anybody, any real person.
But despite its realistic characters, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is a very exotic film. A big part that exotic feeling is due to the jungle-like setting of The Bathtub, and the beautiful way in which it's displayed cinematographically of course. Melancholy seems to drip from the chaotic house walls, the dirty stoves and the "Floating Catfish Shack" in which Hushpuppy and her little friends eventually land.
The end of the world is near, is what the film seems to be trying to say sometimes, and that feeling is also represented in the characters. Partying as if there was no tomorrow, trying to survive from one day to the other. The Bathtub is heaven, the city is hell, that's what they think. As a viewer however, I didn't find myself influenced by this general atmosphere in any way - The Bathtub certainly has it's advantages, and so has the city. But actually, both seem too exotic to be compared to my own life.

Of the people that appreciate BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, many praised it for being emotionally moving in a way that is rarely seen nowadays (to sum up some reviews I've read). I must admit that at this point, one day after having seen it, I have no idea whether I agree or not. It's hard to say whether it's a movie to stay or whether it will only be remembered for that standout performance and the beautiful pictures. There definitely were unnecessary parts that didn't really fit into the movie - although I liked them. But the enjoyable shortness of the movie makes up for that (when did the average movie length rise so high?).
Finally I can only say that the more I see of the Oscar nominees, the less I wish to be in the Academy. It's easy to mock on their choices because your favourite movie wasn't nominated when you've just seen a little selection of the movies nominated. I think we should take it a little more easy. At least it's not the Filmfare Awards, is it?



  1. Good review.A few bloggers called it average and unmemorable, and thought for example the voice-overs are too mature for a small kid. I was one of those who enjoyed movie, and loved the voice-overs and how emotional moving it is. I also enjoyed the magical realism(or whatever it was)
    I agree that what adds to the reality feeling of the movie is that none of the actors are much known.
    A problem with it could be that story romanticizes poverty, which "Tips from Chip" wrote about in his review:

    1. I already talked to another blogger about the accusation of "poverty-porn" against the movie - personally I don't agree with that. Whenever a positive movie is set in a poor environment, people say it romanticizes poverty - you can never make it right for everyone. Thanks for the article, I'll read it soon.
      Also, I did like the voice-overs, they were childish enough for me to believe that (a special) child could have made them up.


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