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Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

14 Aug

Summary: A magical allegory of pigs, alcoholism and climate change. Vincent Ward meets the bayou. Like.

Ignore all the reviews and synopses that come up on the first page of a Google search for this title. They all give a literal reading of the script that is a million miles from the dreamtime experience this film delivers.

In a feral Mississippi delta island community a six year old girl lends us her eyes. Her mind seethes with images provided by drunk and deranged locals, an education in primal survival and cave drawings, and the fear of hurricanes and melting ice caps.

Striking imaginative images and a woozy handheld camera give the film many stand-out stylistic moments. Shot on 16mm film, the grainy look fits well with the gritty existence of the protagonists. Many technically exceptional camera shots provide wow factor viewing.

The bold six year old  hero Hushpuppy, listening to the heartbeats of pigs and standing staunch in the mud, reminded me of the (older) girl in Vincent Ward’s early film Vigil. The allegorical quest elements reminded me of later Ward films.

At its symbolic heart, the film is an allegory of climate change. It uses the fears and symbols of climate change and the setting of the hurricane-lashed Gulf of Mexico to create an unsettling modern day fable.

I see some commentators are already rating lead actor Quvenzhané Wallis’ chances for an Oscar. At the age of nine, she would be the youngest ever recipient. I would not demur; she is exceptional.

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