Monday, September 17, 2012

Internal Storms

Beasts Of The Southern Wild 
 Directed by Benh Zeitlin

Beasts Of The Southern Wild is a southern gothic fantasy film about a 6 year old named Hushpuppy living in a fictional soon to be flooded southern coastall town of Bathtub.
The town has been all but abandoned, save for a few who insist on weathering the storm. Hushpuppy's father takes ill which coincides with the ice caps thawing and releasing prehistoric auroch's, who resemble the giant tusked hogs from Hayoa Miyazake's Princess Mononoke, and appear to be closing in on Bathtub.
Hurricane Katrina is inevitably mentioned in connection to this film, as I imagine will the ongoing (at the time of writing this) Hurricane Issac, but similarities can be misleading.
Katrina as a political issue concerned global warming but more importantly human mismanagement of levys, emergency units, city, state, and national governance, none of which despite a quick trip to a FEMA shelter concerns this film.
The FEMA shelter in the film is not a condemnation of anything other than architecture and appearances.
The antiseptic whiteness and sterile brightness are an obscene counterpoint to the happy rural filth(and it is filthy), the characters seem most comfortable in. Of course, the filth is theirs and can be cleaned up, while the antiseptic world they will never own and always owe. 
Hushpuppy is all but a-sexual, until the shelter forces her into barrettes and a dress. The shelter is an intrusion of the real world, her being a girl, her fathers approaching death, of her poverty (up until then cloaked by those around her equally in the same boat), of the larger forces in the world that can take control of her. 
The film makes no attempt of explaining the details of their capture or their escape. Nor is it necessary to explain why a local fisherman would take a group of girls to an island brothel. 
We never even see the girls ask. In the brothel/bar several prostitutes slow dance with the young soaking wet girls in one of the films more surreal Herzogian scenes, which can be interpreted many ways. The girls as the innocence of the women or the women as the future of the girls. 
It's an ambiguity left open, just as the question of Hushpuppy's mother is never really answered. Beasts Of The Southern Wild is a coming of age tale, though how much of the complexities of life can be understood at six is debatable.
Hushpuppy learns of a world outside her own, pains and joys, the film is simple in this. And its simplicity is one of its strengths. 
 The poetic voice over will remind some of David Gordon Green and Terrance Malick, as will I'm sure some of the hand held nature photography, but this has more in common with films like Terry Gilliam's "Tideland" or Bernad Rose's "Paperhouse", oneiric fantasy's where a character's perspective transforms the world around them to such an extent that the two are indivisible. 
Beasts Of The Southern Wild shares many similarities with Moonrise Kingdom, since both are about renewed vision of the world through the eyes of children, both about shorelines, storms, love and community, but also some important distinctions that its important to look at when evaluating your reaction to the two. 
Moonrise Kingdom takes place in a middle class community, has an entirely white cast (a first in an Anderson film), and a very formalist style of composition.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild is takes place in a poor community, has a mixed but predominantly black cast, a very naturalist style of composition. 
Moonrise Kingdom is the stronger film because it relies on a less extreme range of emotions, a more stable territory of comedy and dramedy that it can more easily control.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild has slightly more dramatic ambitions, which it only missteps toward the end with some excessive voice over recapping the themes of the film, that would be have been better left to the viewer to reach through reflection if at all.
I'm not normally so swept up in texture, mood, and atmosphere mostly because I feel that films which rely on these too often rely on their absence, but Beasts Of The Southern Wild is a film filled, with color, light, and life, imperfect and snarling.

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