Beasts of the Southern Wild *10*
Benh Zeitlin, 2012
This is a mesmerizing and powerful film by debut director Benh Zeitlin, from a play by Lucy Alibar, a fellow writer that Zeitlin met in a writers workshop as a teen. The unlikely star of the film is six year old Quvenzhané Wallis, who had to pretend to be six when she was five to beat out 4,000 others for this part in auditions.
The basic story is that of a motherless girl called Hushpuppy in a bayou region of an island in the Mississippi River delta area of Louisiana, the part past land's end. As you will see early in the film, this is a much more responsible child than we were at age six, her survival depends on it.
This quote from Hushpuppy's narration tells the situation succinctly:
"If my daddy doesn't get back soon, I'll have to start eating my pets."
Her father, Wink, is brilliantly played by a New Orleans 7th ward cafè owner, Dwight Young, also with no previous acting experience, and already two awards for best supporting actor. He plays dad Wink, who has heart trouble, and knows he won't be around while Hushpuppy grows up, so he is raising her to be the man. He demand of her "who's the man?" and she flexes her biceps and says "I'm the man!" This is probably going to be repeated often by fans of this film.
Her name is Hushpuppy likely because she feeds all the animals, their only source of food other than the river, where they catch catfish, crawfish, and other local bounty. Wink even shows her how to catch a catfish by hand in the bayou, by grabbing him when you feel him on the bottom. These people are living in danger like everyone in low coastal areas, here in a makeshift village known as The Bathtub. Without any connection to the mainland, they are constantly endangered by storms, flooding, and global melting, which will easily inundate these low lying areas.
This is the best made coming-of-age story since To Kill a Mockingbird, and Wallis' performance is much tougher and more demanding than Mary Badham's, and seems more natural - you get the feeling that Nazie is not far out of her element in boats and mud in the delta.
Rather than ruin this film by too much story or analysis, as its a magical journey of myth-making proportions, I'll let you see through these links the impact of this film, which Barack Obama called "a spectacular film - even my 4 year old niece was captivated".
Currently Beasts leads with 35 (six so far for Nazie Wallis), including wins at Sundance, and four at Cannes (next high film is Zero Dark Thirty at 21, The Master with 20, and Argo with 19):
The film's trailer from Cannes
The film page at Facebook, where people are telling their stories of this film's impact on their families or children, as well as many other links.