By REBECCA LENZINI
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012/IN THEATERS) Some movies are hard to describe–this is definitely one of them. Winner of four awards at Cannes and the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (and a 2nd award for cinematography), I was expecting to see something magical on screen. And the movie is that and more, although disturbing at the same time. Critics and viewers alike are raving over the performance and voice-over narration of young Quvenzhané Wallis who plays Hushpuppy, a young resident of “The Bathtub,” a fictitious area of the Louisiana bayou cut off from normal society and all its support systems. Hushpuppy’s mother is long gone (“she swam away”), so the young girl is largely fending for herself and dealing with her demanding and often drunk father Wink (played by Dwight Henry, a bakery owner in real life), who really does love her but is also fighting a losing battle against a deadly blood disease. Is there a plot? Not really. We travel in Hushpuppy’s world, narrated by her view of people, places and nature. We experience a giant storm of Katrina size and see its aftermath. We watch her struggling to live up to her father’s expectations as he teaches her how to survive without him. Her narration and the cinematography create the magic in this film. I was reminded of the end of “The Whale Rider,” which also told the story of a young girl living up to her grandfather’s expectations. The movie has a dreamlike quality, heightened by the hand-held, often unfocused camera work and saturated colors, and the presence of aurochs, ancient creatures that play an important role in the film. I admit I was more than mildly appalled by the sheer squalor surrounding the main characters and all the residents of the Bathtub, and also by many of the interactions between Hushpupppy and her father. I tried to remind myself constantly that this movie should be seen as a fairy-tale or a tone poem. It is a first-time effort from filmmaker and writer Benh Zeitlin. We’ll definitely want to see what comes next.
Grade: Impossible to assign