Friday, January 4, 2013

The Year of Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a amazing debut film by director Benh Zeitlin, from a play by Lucy Alibar, a fellow writer that Zeitlin met in a writer's workshop as a teenager. 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. Her character is to be brave and strong, so Nazie, as they call her, said she was that way in the audition at a local library.

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, trying to survive amid poverty, separated from societal infrastructure, with only a handful of other residents for interaction and diversity. It's a stark, primitive existence, without any modern pleasures.

Her father is brilliantly played by New Orleans 7th ward café owner, Dwight Young, also with no previous acting experience, and who already has won 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 and gulf, where they catch catfish, crawfish, crabs, and other local bounty. Like everyone in low coastal areas, these few residents of an area known as The Bathtub are constantly threatened 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 it's 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".

Awards and Nominations
Beasts currently 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 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.

Unfortunately,  Beasts is debuted at Sundance last January, and often an early release in a film season loses Oscar® attention to films timed to attain academy recognition by being released in the last two calendar months of a year, which this year would include the films Life of Pi, The Hobbitt, and Lincoln. That would be a shame for Nazie Wallis, as she has given the child performance in cinema history, and she deserves the lead actress Oscar®.