Monday, July 09, 2012

Beasts Wild

There are so many other cultures on the planet, but even when Hollywood films are shooting in another place or in another culture, the system of making the film still emerges from a very particular personality that comes from New York or Los Angeles. The way in which we’re doing things is very much of the culture of Louisiana. We try to bring the way people relate to one another in Louisiana to our set and do things in a way that expresses that culture. Director Benh Zeitlin
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a story told by a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppie. But it is not a kid's story or a kid's movie. It's more like dirt under the fingernails magic realism Bayou style.

It might be like nothing you have ever seen and because of that it might be tough to take. Not just because it is a knotty story of survival in post hurricane Louisiana but because it does what few films in the history of American cinema have ever done; present us with poor people separated - most definitely - from the sensibilities of the middle or upper class world of Hollywood.

The narrative rarely plays it safe, it never slides off into a world most cinema-goers feel comfortable with. And yet there is nothing subversive about it because there is nothing to subvert. These people are as real as those in a documentary about the place. They are poor, they are uncouth, they drink and curse in front of kids, they live in abject filth and, as they are presented to us, they are not easy to relate to in the way characters in movies usually are. What's more only briefly do we get the Hollywood-like middle or upper class characters who come in to counter balance the reality we see and present us with some kind of safe narrative haven.

And yet the film is not making a value judgement about these outcasts. Far from it. These are real people who live in a real place. But it's not a place the American film world often inhabits. The film has the sensibilities of a third world film and yet it is distinctly an American story.

Part of what is remarkable too is that the story is told from the viewpoint of a 6 year-old-girl. The big harry beasts she imagines are as real as her drunken, sick, fierce father. In this way it is a fable of sorts but without the simplistic smooth finish of a Disney film.

The film deals with chaos and the narrative too gets sloppy on occasion, which is either because of the low budget or because we are being told the story by a kid. [I'm guessing the former]. But it all fits together without too much confusion because the plot is linear.

Beasts starts before a big hurricane hits in a section of the coast of Louisiana called 'The Bathtub". When the hurricane hits some of the locals stay put and float around and above their world refusing to leave. Times get tougher, food gets scarce, the girl's father gets sicker and even though they find a way to drain the water from their land they are forced into a camp. At this point, the safe, clean world of doctors and teachers and bureaucrats provides them some kind of safety. But they want none of it. They choose to head back to the untamed nature and wild beasts of their home.

The film does eventually bring itself back into a Hollywood-like fold. And once you get its coordinates it is a film that anyone can relate to. It's about life and death and survival. It just tells us a story in a unique way. I wish there were more films like it.

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