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Beasts of the Southern Wild - Film Review

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by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (subscribe)
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Stellar performances
Beasts of the Southern Wild a tale of resilience.
Don't be put off by the posters and trailers. This is not a kid's film or some art house film destined for a small cult following. Despite being an indie ring in, Beasts of the Southern Wild has already won the Caméra d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival for best first feature and The Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival. It stands as a breath of fresh air in the glitzy Hollywood gush that has come to define entertainment. It has a young director, Benh Zeitlin only 29, who worked with a collective rather than big money, and the stars are complete unknowns although Hollywood is likely to pounce on their genius.

Hushpuppy (the main protagonist) played by Quvenzhané Wallis was plucked from 4000 wannabe child actors; she had the fire that helped define the movie. She had absolutely no training or experience. Her father in the film, the character of Wink (Dwight Henry), was simply the baker in the shop the casting crew bought their coffee. Again he seemed a natural for the part so they chucked him some acting lessons, which he somehow managed in between baking bread.

The setting is a fictional place called the Bathtub but the film was shot way south of Louisiana. Some critics have called it a post-apocalyptic setting as people make do with scraps of junk, sheets corrugated iron, bits of wood and old car bodies to build their boats and houses. Life is about drinking, whiling away the hours with some joking, backslapping and dangling a fishing line now and again. But mostly it's about falling down drunk.

While there is a sense of a post holocaust world we all know that such societies exist in the here and now where life is a binge, a blur of alcohol and if you want to shun society, or society has shunned you there can be some pretty good times thrown into the futility mix. But let us get this straight this film dwells on the good times the camaraderie and not the despair.

The Bathtub exists outside a levee, which divides these ragamuffins from "proper" society. But the few forays into civilisation show this as a sterile and dehumanising place and you can't help feeling that this group of misfits are better off where they are despite the approaching deluge.

And the floods do come in scenes reminiscent of Katrina and the Bathtub is pretty much down the gurgler.

This in essence is the plot but not the heightened awareness that such a movie brings to events. The real depth is in Hushpuppy's imagination. She sees giant aurochs, which she has learnt about in her makeshift school, heading towards her and her community. To take these literally would be a disservice to the world of the imagination. Like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, Hushpuppy has her own demons, her monsters in the cupboard and she needs to tame life. The Jungian interpretations of this film are endless.

Beasts of the Southern Wild movie
The Jungian interpretations are endless

At the crux of the story is her relationship with her father. It is tangled and messy. He wants to make her tough and resilient; to ward off the coming storms (which can be seen as both literal and metaphorical). And this girl has got gumption, a born leader. An image of her striding off in her undies and gumboots stays with you. Wallis's performance sears itself in your imagination. The film would be far less impressive without her

Beasts of the Southern Wild defies categorisation. It is part dystopia, part bildungsroman (coming of age), with elements of social realism and allegory punctuated with lightening flashes of magic realism. It is a film that will knock the wind out of you but leave you gasping for more.

Beasts of the Southern Wild movie

Despite the PG rating I would not suggest this film for children under 12 due to one scene of domestic violence, which young children may not have the capacity to yet understand

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Why? Because this is damn good movie outside the Hollywood mould.
Where: General release
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