Star rating - 8/10
Debutant director Benh Zeitlin has created a fantastical, tragic global warming/Hurricane Katrina influenced fable, with a dream like quality and a strong political message in his film Beasts of the Southern Wild, as told through the eyes of a child.
The New Orleans based story revolves around the central relationship of a little girl, Hushpuppy, and her father, Wink, who are living in poverty in makeshift shacks on the wrong side of the levee. The authorities want to clear the place in the face of rising waters, but the strong community of drunks and hobos are fierce in their resolve to stick together, to look after each other, and to resist being put in some municipal shelter. Memories of the aftermath of Katrina are hard to fight back during the action, but this film is not just about that particular shameful episode in US history.
It is about pride, love, community, and survival. Terminally ill Wink is determined that his daughter will be able to look after herself in the cruel, harsh world they live in after he has gone. And it is fair to say that his parenting leaves a lot to be desired - left to bring her up alone after her mother left, he favours the 'cruel to be kind' methodology, despite his obvious paternal affection.
Much is being made of the brilliant acting by acting novices Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry in the central roles. And quite rightly so, Wallis especially - an amazing 6 years old at the time of the shoot - gives a mesmerising performance of range and depth. Youngest Best Actress Oscar winner ever? - don't bet against it. Their relationship is moving, angry, and emotional in all the right places. The film does venture slightly into the realms of sentimentality towards the end, but overall it is a refreshing and confident work from Zeitlin, who owes more than a little debt to the wonderful Terrence Malick for this beautiful film.