Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father in the Bathtub, a dirt-poor community in the Mississippi Delta at the edge of the world. Her father’s tough love seeks to prepare her for the world to fall apart, for a time when he’s no longer there to protect her. As he comes down with a mysterious illness, the ice caps melt and the storm waters rise, in the eye of the Tempest, Hushpuppy goes in quest of her mother.
Off the shore of New Orleans in the Mississippi Delta, separated from dry land by a levee, is a bleak wasteland of hardship known as The Bathtub, where a small, self-reliant community ekes out its existence, far-removed from the industrial world. A ferocious storm is brewing, they say, but life in the Bathtub is already beyond dystopian, its people salvaging discarded items from civilization and turning them into whatever they need. It’s all about improvisation in the Bathtub. Their rickety shacks teeter precariously on crops of higher land and some are turning them into boats, hoping to survive the coming flood.
Hushpuppy is our guide and narrator and, as far as she’s concerned, it’s “the prettiest place on Earth.” Played by Quvenzhané Wallis – 5 years old when she was cast, 7 when the movie wrapped – and, like many of the other cast members, an acting novice. An intense, resilient girlchild, Huspuppy shares a trailer with her father Wink. Apparently her mother just “swam away” one day and Hushpuppy is always expecting her return. Father and daughter are close and Wink does his best to teach her all he knows.
Close to nature, she feels for the livestock she lovingly attends, “I sure hope we won’t have to eat one of our pets”, she says, as she feeds them, certain that the animals are speaking to her in their own language. Unaware of the desolation of her life, she is brave, resourceful and resilient and, in her world, the borders between fantasy and reality are blurred.
This poetic fantasy-drama is the first motion picture by director/writer Benh Zeitlin, based on the one-act stage play “Juicy and Delicious” and subsequent screenplay by Lucy Alibar. Made for a moderate $1.2 mill in the devastated, post-Katrina bayous of Louisiana, BEASTS celebrated its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, winning the Grand Jury Prize, followed by the Caméra D’Or at Cannes, and scooping up a further 35 awards and 33 nominations at various international film festivals throughout the first half of 2012. Although it features no known stars or what the industry likes to refer to as “bankable” talent, it has, surprisingly enough, already been viewed by more than 11 million US cinema-goers since its very small release this summer. It is, without doubt, one of the finest and most remarkable films of the year.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTERHN WILD (USA 2012); Drama/Fantasy; Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures/MFA Distribution (Germany); Running time: 92 min; Director/Writer (screenplay): Benh Zeitlin; Writer (stage/screenplay): Lucy Alibar (based “Juicy and Delicious”); Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper; Cinematographer: Ben Richardson; Composer: DanRomer; Release dates: Dec. 20 (Germany); Rated PG-13