The Bathtub is a place of myths and wonders, a broken down teardrop of Louisiana marsh and mud in
Director Benh Zeitlin and his co-writer Lucy Alibar, a playwright whose "Juicy and Delicious" was the inspiration, have created characters that are wondrously indelible, distinctive of voice and set them inside a story that will unleash a devastating hurricane, and a flood of emotions, before it is done.
This is a remarkably skilled first feature for the filmmakers and its fusion of fable and soulful reality has been widely embraced on the festival circuit starting with
"Beasts" is both a modest and ambitious film. In a sense, it tells nothing more than a fundamental story about the bond between parent and child forged by the trials and triumphs that frame the process of growing up. But Hushpuppy's journey becomes a window into the culture of the dispossessed, the influence of a close-knit community and the empowerment that is possible when a child's imagination is encouraged to roam free.
Like other boundary-breaking indies before it — say the cold world of 2010's
The story begins on an ordinary day in Hushpuppy's life, played with a stunning tenacity by young Quvenzhane Wallis. She lives in a jerry-built shack in a backwater bayou. It's raised on stilts in deference to the water that can rise deadly and fast. There's no sign of a mother, though her presence will be felt at every turn. Her father, Wink (Dwight Henry, a New Orleans baker making an impressive acting debut), lives within shouting distance in the rusted out shell of a bus. It is a reflection of the relationship — there is love, but a certain distance as well.
Hushpuppy is precocious, always wondering about her place in the universe. When not dealing with the gritty reality of the Bathtub, her flights of fancy fill the screen with magic, from the particles floating in the air to visions of the Ice Age and the long extinct Aurochs that Hushpuppy is convinced will rise again.
Wink is a wiry, irascible man who has a habit of doling out fatherly wisdom in impatient angry bursts. He drinks too much and laughs too loud and nearly always in the company of the other residents of Bathtub, a collection of hardscrabble types who end most nights passed out from the local hooch. They are a racial mix and color blind, tightly bound by their poverty and sense of place. They have names like Jean Battiste (Levy Easterly), Walrus (Lowell Landes) and Little Jo (Pamela Harper), and live by their wits and what they can catch from the sea. Miss Bathsheeba (Gina Montana) is the local teacher, artist and herbalist who puts resilience right up there with the other Rs in terms of what kids need to know.