Released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday, 11th February, we take a look at the release.
Given its setup, surrounded by the baron and depraved American deep-South of Louisiana; centre stage to a fantasy coming of age drama, it seems a hard sell on paper. Taken from a stage play and on a shoe-string budget, debut director Benh Zeitlin uses his first outing as a chance to conjure up a feel good feature about the issues of growth, poverty, dependency along with the good nature of the human spirit.
Focusing on nine-year old Hushpuppy (played by Quvenzhané Wallis) as she lives with her ill father Wink (played by Dwight Henry) whilst they try and survive from the scraps of a disaster hit area with the help of the strong local community. But as they set off to find better land, with Hushpuppy searching for her distant mother, so begins a coming of age tale as she deals with the inevitability of life from her innocence point of view.
Addressing with the technical side of things, it’s made with this on-screen battle between a joyous soundtrack along with the positive upbeat life of the inhabitants within the bayou, and the visual element of stricken wasteland. You get the detail of the hardship, with the clanging pots and pans, the unwashed clothes and the sense of dealing with what you have, but the film has this almost carnival atmosphere playing throughout that almost keeps your senses rich and vibrant.
Even though there is the minimalist use of fantasy, it’s done to full effect. Whilst your able to search and see the political and social statements being made, the real beauty is it strongly ties in with the blueprint of Guillermo Del Toro‘s Pan’s Labyrinth. In the way you have a young girl, living in hard times, using her surroundings as a playground of imagination, the film actively depicts the strong heart triumphantly in someone so fragile and innocent.
Non more so than the performance of Quvenzhané Wallis, a strong, fierce, young woman, rather than seeing her as a wrapped up nine year old, she embodies a strength of those around her with her uncompromising attitude and raw energy. Whilst she comes to terms with what it means to fend for yourself, and to let go of things that don’t last forever really is brought to the centre stage and doesn’t dare to shy away or swing towards any other subject. Meanwhile her father, Wink, played by Dwight Henry is a man constantly wanting to teach his daughter the harsh lessons of life before he’s no longer around to fulfil the role. Almost vigorous in his techniques, scary at times, he’s able to become the loving father without resorting to him coming across as a mean heavy-handed parent. Even when he’s down to his lowest, one such moment is a loving exchange with Hushpuppy as he’s on the verge of a medical procedure were the penny clearly drops and culminates in everything he’s been saying up until that point.
The real genius is the very fact that all this life affirming drama is taking place in the confines of a small indie production, with a small budget, a very young central performance and from a debut director in the form of Zeitlin himself. All coming together as a prime example that an independent film can create something truly cinematic, even when having the smallest of resources. Despite its dark and gloomy subject, it’s poignant, touching and works brilliantly, whilst coming with a surprisingly rich energy throughout.