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Sunday, 2 June 2013

Grim Down South

‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’, an undeniably lyrical and poetic work from Benh Zeitlin, written with Lucy Alibar and based on her stage play, has many passages of joyous originality, and the film ably captures the child’s perspective in Hush Puppy’s mostly intelligible narration, but remains stuck there for the duration. This becomes tiresome after a while, but there is still much to admire in the performance of Quvenzhané Wallis, and that of Dwight Henry as her father. There are many visually captivating scenes, and a beautiful, if grungy, quality throughout, but the substance was a source of irritation for me. Perhaps the child’s perspective is the excuse that allows the reality of the situation in the Bathtub to be overlooked, but questions arise such as where does the fuel for the boats come from, the electricity in the light bulbs, the gas for cooking and the ubiquitous alcohol?

I feel that these questions should have been answered, and the biggest problem with the film in my view is that the interaction of the characters with the outside world seems to be something that was swept under the carpet for the most part. The denizens of the Bathtub enjoy benefits (no doubt literally, as no-one seems to produce anything other than perhaps to feed themselves, and there is no indication of anyone working per se), but do not seem to accept the existence of the wider world, or certainly any responsibility towards it.

In the end, it is difficult to know what to take from the film. It is certainly uplifting in some of its philosophical sound bites, and Hush Puppy makes an emotional journey that is affecting, but there are too many events without consequence or explanation, and these feel like holes. Beautifully filmed, with engaging performances and an excellent and often uplifting soundtrack by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin, and if nothing else entirely justified in its dire warnings of the potential for global disaster, but ultimately it left me wanting something more.

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