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USA 2011
Directed by
Benh Zeitlin
92 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a marvellous first feature by Benh Zeitlin, based on a screenplay and stage play by his co-writer Lucy Alibar about a six year old child, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who lives in a ramshackle community of social outcasts in the bayous of Louisiana near New Orleans in an area called The Bathtub. Cut off from the mainland and surrounded by rising waters, it is the only home that Hushpuppy, who considers it "the prettiest place on Earth”, has ever known. But a mighty storm is approaching and the denizens of The Bathtub including her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), do what they can to prepare.

Although it is set in a real place (post-Katrina New Orleans) and concerns real people (all the cast appear to be locals and untrained as actors) Zeitlin’s film is a kind of distaff fairytale. Not one illustrating a specific moral, though there are evident intimations of ecological disaster, but rather one told by a resourceful child who weaves together different elements from her limited schooling and her surroundings to make her own imaginary world. It’s a story that one feels Mark Twain could have written. 

The film which won a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, is crowned by Wallis’s extraordinarily self-possessed presence.  Hushpuppy has through sheer force of circumstance learned to survive. Her mother has gone, her father, although caring for her is a hot-tempered alcoholic, given to mood swings and is dying whilst around her are a rag-tag assortment of misfits including even in one touching scene a floating brothel where the child briefly finds some moments of maternal affection.

Although not the sort of film to choose if you are wanting something plot-driven Beasts of the Southern Wild should reward a more reflective mood. 




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