Drifting in from various film festivals on smoke signals of lavish praise, the unique, fascinating and ultimately depressing film called Beasts of the Southern Wild— a low-budget independent film by Benh Zeitlin about survivors of apocalyptic Hurricane Katrina, shot in the back swamps of Terrebonne Parish, La., using local nonactors instead of Hollywood extras—is now ready to engage the movie-going public in the darkness of a dream. There is no guarantee that the movie-going public is ready. I don’t notice any critics offering to pick up its deficit tabs in case it floats away from good reviews. But get ready anyway. Brilliant, compelling and powerful, this offbeat look at a part of a world we live in but know nothing about is not going to disappear without at first making a noise.
In a desolate, burned-out butt end of nowhere (the shrimp-trawling, blackened catfish, Cajun part of Southeastern Louisiana), a little girl they call Hushpuppy is left alone for days and nights on end when her desperately ill father disappears, forcing her to invent her own survival techniques. The setting is the emotionally parched and geographically designed cartographer’s view of hell called The Bathtub—what’s left of an area of makeshift cardboard and toothpick shanties that Katrina devastated, scattering the region’s population to the wind like dandelion fuzz. It lies low between the Gulf and the Mississippi River—a man-made wall has gone up on the dry side of the levee to protect against annihilating floods. This is where nothing grows, catfish and crawdads from polluted water are the only food, and stubborn Cajuns who refused to evacuate to higher ground when Brad Pitt and Sean Penn came down to rescue them on CNN News still live in the ultimate depths of poverty and ignorance. It’s the most sobering view of the uneducated and disenfranchised outcasts the world has forgotten since Precious. Read More