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Beasts of the Southern Wild

By MATTHEW SINGER

In the Bathtub—the fictional Louisiana bayou settlement that forms the backdrop and lifeblood of the enchanting Beasts of the Southern Wild—the price of existing off the grid is living in waterlogged squalor. Shot among the ravages of post-Katrina New Orleans but set on the eve of the hurricane’s arrival, the film is a clear allegory for the Ninth Ward, an area certain authorities were seemingly happy to see drowned out of existence. Although showered with festival accolades, some have labeled the movie’s director and co-writer, a white Wesleyan graduate named Benh Zeitlin, a “cultural tourist.” It’s a dubious criticism, considering that where Beasts really takes us is on a tour of a child’s imagination. As far as we know, the Bathtub we experience only exists in the mind of Hushpuppy (dynamo first-timer Quvenzhané Wallis, already the subject of Oscar handicapping). And it’s got giant, mythical horned pigs in it, for crying out loud. Accusing Zeitlin of making—in the words of one critic—an “art-house minstrel show” is like accusing Maurice Sendak of misrepresenting imaginary monsters. The movie is a fable, not a documentary. It’s like Southern-fried, live-action Miyazaki. Is it messy? A bit. But like the Bathtub, that’s part of the film’s charm and power. It manipulates waterworks at its emotional climax, which isn’t necessary. Beasts clamps its jaws down on you long before then.

 

Special Note

 Cinema 21.
 
  • Running Time:
  • Release Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2012
  • Critic's Score: A
  • Watch the trailer
 

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