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Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

December 9, 2012

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Every kind of label has been attached to Beasts of the Southern Wild, and each one of ‘em  doesn’t do justice to it. I never cared about labels anyway. Call it fantasy, or drama, or whatever you want, it’s all and none of those things. Despite being a fictional work, the grainy look given by the 16mm film and the hand-held camera make it look like a live footage report from a post-hurricane situation. This is also possible thanks to the actors, most of whom are locals from Louisiana, where the film shooting took place, including the little star of this movie, Quvenzhané Wallis.

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To tell the truth, I’m aware of the fact that the film itself would’ve been pretty weak if it weren’t for the wonderful performances delivered by the cast. I’m not saying that the script is weak per se, but the portrait of a community that lives on the edge of society versus the modern world that ruins the primitive innocence of human beings is a bit simplistic and clichéd. But, fortunately, director Benh Zeitlin ( who also wrote the screenplay with Lucy Alibar) doesn’t rely on useless dialogues that reinforce this thesis but prefers to let the action talk. What strikes the most is the visual strength that runs throughout the entire movie: being it a street parade, a hurricane, blowing up a dam or simpler stuff like turning on a stove, the actions are filmed by the camera with a newborn eye, filled with mystery and stupor.

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The plot itself is nothing special, but the performances of Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry shine above everything else. Their relationship seems so true and felt that every instant of the movie appears fresh and powerful, despite it being predictable on many levels. The music does a tremendous job too, accompanying the images with their same heart-throbbing rush. And even though they’re not as implemented as many may let you think, the special effects are really impressive: one of the most naturalistic yet effective use of them I’ve seen so far, surely superior to many and many larger budgeted movies loaded with 3D crap and stuff. So, in the end, this may not be as original or innovative as some might say, but it sure is one of the most powerful and moving film I’ve seen recently, and, for once, it deserves all the attention it’s getting ultimately.

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