I only recently saw this Oscar nominated film, but let me tell you, I’m beginning to understand all the hype. Granted, this movie wasn’t available in all areas and that means that fewer folks saw it (dotted line being they didn’t have the CHANCE to see it), which is unfortunate. And now that it’s out on home video, you have the chance to see this beautiful exercise in telling a story with simply moving pictures. Sure, that means there’s some voice over, but think about the fact that the primary character is a little seven year old girl – and still, the movie works.
That little girl is named Hushpuppy, played by Quvenzhane Wallis, who I understand was about seven while they filmed the picture on location in Southern Louisiana. My title for this entry doesn’t lie – she gives you a tour of this little community on the bayou called the “bathtub,” giving the film a documentary feel to it. How does the director, Benh Zeitlin, achieve this feeling? Well, the cast of characters indeed made me feel more like I was watching a true, living and breathing neighborhood rather than a fictitious story with Hallmark etchings about a quaint little Southern “parish”. These neighbors love their community and its seclusion from the authority of the big city so much, they battle the LEOs (law enforcement officers – I learned that from the movie, Haywire) when their neighborhood gets flooded like that old story about Noah and they’re forced to evacuate. The movie also feels authentic because of its location and the photography which captures its subject:I know I complain about this technique a bunch, but in the case of Beasts, I thought the hand-held camera was very appropriate and added to the suspense of some chapters of the story. Come to think of it, perhaps the filmmakers had little choice in having to hold the camera, given the location of some of the scenes!
Let me clarify that the story is definitely Hushpuppy’s. Perhaps that’s why this little Indy movie has gained such notoriety – it’s showing us the world through the eyes of a child. And even a neighborhood as filthy and disadvantaged as “the bathtub” has a certain beauty and innocence when you consider it through the eyes of a seven year old. Consider the idea that Hushpuppy’s mother had passed long ago: well, she sees a light way out across the Gulf and simply decides that must be her mom looking after her. Where she got this idea is never explored, nor should it have been. I’m not a parent, but I have pals who are early in parenthood, and they often tell stories ending in, “I have no idea where (s)he got it from!” Incidentally, what Hushpuppy finds when she travels to the light is another wonderful episode in the film that I’m not about to give away here.
You can no doubt tell two things by this point in my little entry: first, I liked Beasts a whole lot. It made me emotional in its delicate telling of very real, worldly problems perceived through this little girl who, despite her age, had a whole lot of heart and character. Second, it’s kind of a difficult film to describe! You kind of have to go into it with very little assumptions and enjoy it – kind of like your first day of kindergarten!