Thursday, August 2, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Rhoades)

“Beasts of Southern Wild”
Delivers Its Own Magic

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

As a boy growing up in the southern wilds, I knew there was magic out there. Witch women and dowsers, traveling wizards and phantasmagorical beasts. And the deeper the south, the more potent the magic.
That’s why Benh Zeitlin’s first feature film – “Beasts of the Southern Wild” – is set in a Southern Delta near New Orleans, a magical realm known as The Bathtub.
We encounter six-year-old Hushpuppy, a girl who must prepare herself for a time when the universe unravels, and “nature flies out of whack, temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures.”
Her father, a tough old buzzard named Wink, comes down with a mysterious illness and is no longer able to protect Hushpuppy, so she must face these dangers on her own, while seeking the mother she barely remembers.
“Who’s the man?” Wink asks.
“I’m the man,” Hushpuppy replies.
There’s a theme of defiance in this end-of-the-world fantasy, as residents refuse to uproot despite the rising tides and change of weather. Based on co-scriptwriter Lucy Alibar’s one-act play called “Juicy and Delicious,” Zeitlin formed a filmmakers collective and shot the movie on 16mm using a small professional crew and dozens of locals in the bayou town of Montegut, Louisiana.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is currently working its magic at the Tropic Cinema.
Hushpuppy is winningly played by Quvenzhané Wallis, a novice actress who “has a smile to charm fish out of the water and a scowl so fierce it can stop monsters in their tracks.”
Yes, we’re talking Americana in the making here. A character sure to join Huck Finn, Scout Finch, and Elliott of E.T. as iconic views of childhood.
Nazie (Quvenzhané’s nickname) had to fib about her age to audition for the role, being only five at the time and the casting cutoff was six. She beat out 4,000 other local kids to play Hushpuppy. After casting her, Zeitlin changed the script to reflect Nazie’s strong-willed personality. The character – like her – embodies an indomitable child survivalist who lives with her dying father in the backwoods Louisiana bayou.
GoldDerby, an organization that handicaps actors on their likelihood of winning awards, is currently ranking Quvenzhané Wallis as fourth in the Best Actress category for the Academy Awards.
 What’s more, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” won the Caméra d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, the award given to the best first feature film. It also won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
Louisiana’s Isle de Jean Charles served as inspiration for The Bathtub. However, the Isle will not be included within the boundaries of the 72-mile-long Army Corps of Engineers levee project, scheduled to be completed in 2020. The thin sliver of land continues to sink into the Gulf, the back steps of many houses now underwater. Yet its residents – like those in the movie – refuse to uproot.
When asked what she’d do if she had caused the end of the world, Nazie Wallis responded, “I would try to fix it. I would go to bed on time and brush my teeth.”

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