Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012).
Beasts of the Southern Wild, which received a few post-production grants from the San Francisco Film Society, will be opening in San Francisco this weekend at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema with Q&A with producer John Penn after select screenings on Friday, July 6, and Saturday, July 7.
Hushpuppy, a 6-year-old girl, lives in The Bathtub, a rural area isolated from the rest of the Southern Delta by a levee. With her mother out of the picture, she is raised by her headstrong father, Wink. At the same time that Wink’s faltering health becomes apparent to Hushpuppy, a heavy storm is headed to The Bathtub. Some people leave, but others in the community – Wink and Hushpuppy included – stay as the area gets flooded. In the aftermath, Hushpuppy undertakes a hero’s journey that demonstrates the strong will and conviction that her father taught her.
The film is an obvious metaphor for the damage hurricane Katrina afflicted on New Orleans and the poorly executed relief efforts, but it does not overwhelm with a message. It doesn’t try to preach. Instead, it gives a realistic view of the struggles and traits of the individuals who lived and stayed in a flooded zone. It resembles a neo-realist film, like the classic post-war Italian films of Vittorio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief and Shoeshine) and Roberto Rossellini (Rome, Open City, Paisan, and Germany Year One). There are no recognizable actors and most of the performers are non-actors, but more roles should be coming their way, especially for Quvenzhané Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy. Wallis gives one of the best performances by a child, especially in recent years.
The narrative stays true to its main character throughout. It is the imagination and spirit of Hushpuppy that makes this film create a strong connection with its audience. The action follows the girl, putting the viewer in her place. But more importantly, the filmmakers have cut together images that present thoughts that only a child’s mind would connect in that unique way a kid can associate responsibility to actions that are not directly related to the presumed outcome. Early on, as Hushpuppy’s words and actions cause her father to stumble, she thinks this causes polar ice caps to melt, water levels to rise, and the area to become flooded.
With its wide scope and perfect execution, the film comes across as an ambitious and, somehow, simple movie. For his debut feature film, director Benh Zeitlin created a film full of compassion, pride, honesty, and splendid imagination. Beasts of the Southern Wild was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the Camera d’Or at Cannes earlier this year. It would be surprising if many other awards are not bestowed upon this film.