As each spring finally turns to summer, the Seattle International Film Festival comes to the Seattle area and fills our local theaters with the latest independent releases as well as plenty more artier films from around the world. And each time the festival is upon us, I always say to myself “Yeah, I’m gonna see a bunch of films this year!”, and it never really happens. In fact, last year I didn’t end up seeing any. I guess it’s just a little too scary to commit to seeing films that you know nothing about, and have no idea what their critical standing is. Luckily, I had heard nothing but good things about Beasts Of The Southern when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, so it felt like something I should seek it out at this year’s SIFF, and I’m glad I did.
Beasts is told from the perspective of a young girl referred to only as Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), who finds her strong-willed father (Dwight Henry) to be in ailing health as the two of them prepare for a massive storm. The two of them live in area just off the Louisiana coastline known as The Bathtub, and though it’s never really stated when the film takes place or what specific storm is taking place, this is a film that invokes a lot of the themes and questions that continue to plague post-Katrina New Orleans. After the storm hits, the film more or less becomes about the relationships between the people of this community and how they continue to survive in the face of poverty and destruction.
It seems that critics have already been hailing director Benh Zeitlin as one of the next great American filmmakers, and though I’m always hesitant to pin that kind of label on anyone who’s made just one film, what he does here is pretty mesmerizing. He certainly invokes that kind of interest in the beauty of nature that we’ve seen in the work of Terrence Mallick or early David Gorden Green. And yet at the same time, there’s this sense of whimsy that the film invokes by incorporating this fantasy element in to a story that might have been a little too gritty and bleak otherwise.
It’s always nice to see a film that isn’t condescending towards children and is actually able to effectively show the world from a child’s perspective, and I think this film captures about as well as any film I’ve seen the way kids create their own little worlds for themselves in order to deal with the hardships of the real world. The little girl that stars in the film is definitely very good and perhaps a child-actor to look out for, and the relationship between her and her tough-love father is often quite moving. I’m not sure that the film is perfect, as there are a couple scenes that lag a bit, but when you factor in the performances and the complex tone, as well as a really stirring soundtrack, Beasts Of The Southern Wild makes for a very impressive debut film, and is certainly one worth seeking out once it’s released in theaters in about a month.