Director: Behn Zeitlin
Nominated: Best Picture; Best Actress; Director; Adapted Screenplay
It’s an odd sort of mix this year in the Best Picture category with a foreign film (Amour), a rom-com (Silver Linings Playbook), a musical (Les Miserables) and what is best describes as an indie, Beasts of the Southern Wild. It’s shot in a much looser hand-held style than the more static shots of Hollywood blockbusters, which puts it more in the independent genre in my opinion. Zeitlin employs lots of close-ups and tight camera angles.
And it’s an unusual group of people, led by the youngest ever Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis (Best Actress) at just 9 years old. She is remarkable and not just for the fact that she carries the entire film. Told from Hushpuppy‘s point of view there is an innocence that comes with seeing things through the eyes of a child. However there is also a sense of innocence lost as circumstances drastically change Hushpuppy’s life. Hushpuppy has a strange relationship with her father – she has an incredible amount of freedom for a child, even living in a separate house by herself. She is therefore very self-sufficient and semi-capable of looking after herself. It’s one that is strained even further by her father’s ill-health. Her dad does teach her all the things she’s going to need in order to look after herself if he goes like how to catch fish. There is a brutal truth to their relationship – he doesn’t shy away from telling her that he’s dying in order to try to prepare her for living on her own once he dies. Ultimately Hushpuppy has to grow up faster than she should. She’s such a serious little thing, sure that she’s broken everything – her daddy’s health and the ice caps melting resulting in the flooding of the Bathtub, the flood basin below the levee and altering their way of life. She’s rarely seen without her rain-boots, a necessity when living in Bathtub.
Set in the deep South, in the Bathtub, we get an insight into a remarkable group of people and their way of life. It’s one that at first glance seems quite primitive and backwards but in reality is just a different way of living to that of most of the cinema going audience. It’s an intriguing film partly because it is a life so far different to my own. A lot of the time is just Hushpuppy on her own, and yet she doesn’t seem a lonely child. They’re a resilient folk in the Bathtub. They don’t let the storm and flooding drive them from their home despite it wiping out much of the population. They just adapt in order to keep living there.
There isn’t much in the way of narrative, although there is a strange side story about aurochs that runs throughout. Instead it seems to focus on the relationship between Hushpuppy and her dad. There is love there even if it’s shown in an unconventional way but then everything about their entire lifestyle is unconventional so it fits right in.
Wallis gives an outstanding performance all the more remarkable coming from one so young. I just hope she is able to keep it up and doesn’t fall foul to the inevitable train wreck that destroys so many of America’s talented child actors. I’m not entirely sure what my take on Beasts of the Southern Wild is but I think I like it despite the rather loose narrative. And I’m intrigued as to how it would work in its original form as it’s adapted from the play Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar.