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See the review of special 26
What a world we live in.We read all about it in the newspapers everyday, eat our cereals and slink away to work.But sometimes a film comes along that tries to open our eyes a wee bit.And suddenly the way a six your old sees the world makes some sense.Its not that such films are rare, brave films are being made all over the world, but its a small miracle when a film like The Beasts of The Southern Wild becomes a sensation and wins almost every award worth winning(that’s counting nominations as wins!).
Benh Zeitlin makes a small film with beastly ambitions.This one could about so many things, I dread to say its a film about life itself, a blurb I save for Robert Bressons Au Hazard Balthazar. And yet its 93 minutes are packed chock-a-block with big issues like the environment, Hurricane Katrina, existentialism, parenting, human survival and consumerism, all resting on the shoulders of its feisty heroine, Quivenzhane Wallis who plays Hushpuppy.Perhaps too chock-a-block.
Hushpuppy is a little girl living in Bathtub, an outlaw community of eclectic souls who do not wish to leave their land and get trapped in a government shelter. Her father Wink finds the skyscape rising above the levees to be real ugly and thinks their ragged patch of marshy green is the prettiest place on earth.Hushpuppy’s mother left her when she was born and her father is raising her as best as he can or as well as he knows how to.Wink is the kind of father that will surely be arrested in Norway, his ideas on parenting are perhaps derived from a loving caveman.
Hushpuppy is growing up in a world very different from most kids. We get a startling image of her lifting up a bird and listening to its heartbeat, trying to decode its thoughts.Now contrast that with our kids, iphone’s stuck to their heads. Hushpuppy’s teacher tells her that the world is going to end soon with the melting of the polar ice caps and bares her thigh to show her the tattoos of mythical creatures called aurochs which will be released when that happens. Hushpuppy will brave the elements as well as make peace with these imaginary beasts in her life.
Once her father disappears, leaving her to her faith in him, and reappears with a mysterious illness. She quarrels with her father and tells him in a fit of rage,”I hope you die and after you die I’ll go to your grave and eat birthday cake all by myself ”.Make of this dialogue what you will. She has no access to Tarantino.
There is a terrible storm and most of the residents leave, but Wink decides to stay on.They survive but barely, they appear forsaken by the outside world, which finally intervenes. We see a hospital.Observing a man on a ventilator Hushpuppy says,”When an animal gets sick here, they plug it into the wall”.Only a wild child like her can make this simple connection about us being animals.
Dwight Henry, the real life baker who owns and runs the ‘Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Cafe’ in New Orleans, is the powerhouse of this film playing Wink.He is a natural.But most of the hype is surrounding the little Miss Wallis. She is no best actress nominee material by any stretch of imagination.She is a brave little girl with a very interesting face and here, she does the directors bidding well. Her range of expressions at the moment is limited. Her ambitious parents will be better served by the Oscar nomination than her.
For a film set in Louisiana, a part of the Bible belt, God is never invoked.This film remains deeply rooted in forces of nature and contains such precocious knowledge as a child realizing that some animals eat their own offsprings.At one points Hushpuppy says, ”I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.” Yes, that statement is just about right, but from the mouth of a six year old? Beasts. does not rise up to the challenge of making us take that leap of faith.
This is a visually stunning film and a testament to how the camera can make mundane, even “dirty” objects, look beautiful. Magic realism as a label springs to mind but there is more realism here than magic.The magic is all in its making. Benh Zeitlin offers a masterclass in indie filmmaking, he knows all the tricks, and dresses up Beasts. as a profound film.His inspiration is, I suspect, Tree of Life by Terrence Malik, with clear parallels in terms of a soulful voiceover and juxtaposition of a families tragedy with elements of nature, to place a story in a cosmic context. Zeitlin is all of 29 years old and must have been 26 when he started working on this film.With his great talent and passion he will hopefully make great films in the future.This one is likely to fade away with the awards season, leaving him a potent calling card.