Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Directed by: Benh Zeitlin

Produced by: Josh Penn
Dan Janvey
Michael Gottwald

Screenplay by: Lucy Albar
Benh Zeitlin

Starring: Quvenzhane Wallis
Dwight Henry

Music by: Dan Romer
Benh Zeitlin

Cinematography by: Ben Richardson

Editing by: Crocket Doob
Affonso Goncalves

Studio(s): Journeyman Pictures
Court 13 Pictures

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Release date(s): January 20, 2012 (Sundance Film Festival)
June 27, 2012 (United States)
October 19, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 93 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $1, 800, 000

Box office revenue (as of publication): $11, 249, 128 

Right guys, me again, procrastinating with regards to a nasty essay on Friedrich Nietzsche. I think his philosophy is fascinating, but man if it isn't like the elephant in the room I don't want to acknowledge. Anywho, of course I've been busy review wise, but I must say a word or two about a couple of new movies I've saw recently. My first venture into Dario Argento, The Stendhal Syndrome, was a great watch and genuinely nerve-racking in parts, featuring a fearless lead performance from Asia Argento, and The City Of Lost Souls is a fun, Bizzaro-world action-packed love story that is the perfect antidote to the saccharine artificiality of the countless screen romances that foul up the cinema. Anywho, in case you forgot, keep your eyes posted!

Right, so today's movie for review is Beasts Of The Southern Wild. Winner of the Camera d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, an award previously won by Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise and Steve McQueen's Hunger, and also the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Film at the Sundance Film Festival so that's a nice endorsement for debut filmmaker Benh Zeitlin. I, however, was unaware of this film's international success. Looking for something to review up at the Queens Film Theatre, I went into this movie on a purely unknowing whim, without any prior knowledge as to the film's content, besides the 12A certificate. I'll just give a brief synopsis, because it's better to go in blank: a storm is approaching The Bathtub, a southern Louisiana bayou community, and we follow six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) through the happenings, if you will, of her people and the events that occur during the course of the film. You've caught the swing of things? Right, let's go!

Starting with the good on Beasts Of The Southern Wild, I want to break from tradition and start with director Benh Zeitlin. He is responsible for creating a film, like this month's earlier Silence, which is wholly unique in terms of aesthetic atmosphere. This most unconventional of children's films does a rare thing of being both atypical and typical to the genre format. Zeitlin's wisdom and control ensures that tonally it never leans too much into one side and that it manages to be as well-balanced as it is. There is an artistic dichotomy created in the relationship between the visual and aural aspects of the film. Visually, Ben Richardson's excellent 16mm cinematography is reminiscent of the grime present in the work of the Dogme 95 (though of course they shot on Academy 35mm). In a style that correlates with the images he is capturing, it has a rawness that draws you firmly into the shoes of the central protagonist: with the camera at low angles, bouncing around and perhaps occasionally tripping up along the way, we are quite literally seeing this world as active participants from her perspective, and more importantly, how she sees it. In contrast to the often brutal (but artistically wonderful in its design) world of The Bathtub, we have the sonic landscape. Dan Romer's score (with Benh Zeitlin) is perhaps one out of this context I might not appreciate, but here it fits like a glove. It conjures up just how magical the world can seem to a child, even when surrounded by such threatening forces. There is a genuine sense of jubilant playfulness to it that one could say corresponds to the inside of our intrepid protagonist's head. This is a film that is sure of itself, so much that it doesn't feel like you're being told how intelligent it is. You just go with the flow and revel in it. At the centre of the picture, for all the film's strong supporting performances, particularly Dwight Henry, is a transcendent performance from young Quvenzhane Wallis. Despite portraying a character who goes through a bildungsroman-esque arc, Wallis carries Hushpuppy with such amazing confidence beyond her years. The filmmakers have let Wallis bring so many of her own qualities to the character of Hushpuppy, and as such we get this miraculous harmony between construction and performer. You never once doubt the legitimacy of having a child at the centre of all this stuff that's going on, and I know this sound like high praise (it's meant to be, but my hyperbole may seem exaggerated), it may well be the best performance I have seen from anyone in 2012. Beasts Of The Southern Wild is a wonderful film that may be tougher than one may expect for a children's movie, but it has all the hallmarks of a great film and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Now, I loved Beasts Of The Southern Wild. It's a film with genuine character, humour, brutality and above all, heart. However, at risk of sounding like I'm looking for faults, I don't think it is perfect or indeed a masterpiece. I'm not going to be like Cole Smithey, who in his review for the film introduced an argument that it was "one of the worst films of 2012" and didn't follow up that statement with a why, but I can sympathise with the like-minded Chris Tookey, who felt similarly to Smithey, but had legitimate weight to his argument. I'd be lying if I didn't say that bits of it are all over the shop and that the script has too many intricacies, in that occasionally the detail of it overwhelms both the audience and, I think, what is good about the script. That said, this was not a massive issue with me, but it was a flaw nevertheless.

Despite this flaw, which does take away from the film, Beasts Of The Southern Wild is on the whole a mostly consistent piece. Tonally, it affected as such that throughout there was a sense of dread akin to that of a thriller, but also at times awed me in the way that an adventure film would when I was a child. Benh Zeitlin is responsible for the creative direction the film takes, establishing a rich dichotomy of two polarising elements (the Dogme 95-esque 16mm cinematography/the jubilant Dan Romer score) that are grounded and held in place by a stunning central performance from Quvenzhane Wallis. Not your average kids movie by any means, but a wonderful piece of work.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pensive (don't know quite why, but I'm in a rather thinking type of mood)

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