We’d just got home from Christmas in the UK and we needed a film to see.
Part of living here is that I live in a bit of a bubble. I am generally disconnected from what’s going on in the UK [apart from the football, obviously] and I only have a basic awareness of what’s going on here in France too. This disconnection is a cultural one too and is a little frustrating, but I guess I’m the only one who’s going to burst it.
Anyway, we saw that this film was on, and after a pretty cursory glance at what it was about, we went.
The film is set in the Deep South of the US in a largely independent community called the Bathtub in the Louisiana bayou. The story is told by Hushpuppy [in a great performance by Quvenzhané Wallis], a young girl who is daughter to the sick Wink and a mother who has disappeared. Hushpuppy’s worldview is formed by the lessons from the community’s teacher and from her father’s own slightly distorted worldview and less than mainstream parenting style. Hushpuppy is becoming sensitive to the world around her and is keen to listen to the heartbeat of the living things around her.
There’s a lot that this film doesn’t tell you about its setting and the people in it. Are the things you are not told important? Not hugely but you cannot help but make links to the society after Hurricane Katrina and the feeling of isolation that the people in the area must have felt.
Not only does Hushpuppy live in the independent community, she lives in a raised static caravan separate from her father and also from what is happening to him. This film is the story of the community’s reaction to a great storm and of Hushpuppy’s reaction to the disintegration of the community as her father’s health deteriorates.
The film is a magical realist demonstration of ideas and images, richly set and wonderfully filmed on location. It is based on the play Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar. It doesn’t suffer from being an adaptation that is still seemingly on the stage. This is a journey that you experience and make willingly alongside the fiery, feisty and strangely worldly-wise Hushpuppy.
And the aurochs? In Hushpuppy’s imagination these are wild, horned, hairy black pigs inspired by Husphpuppy’s teacher’s tattoos and apocalyptic lessons on climate change which the eventual storm can only reinforce. Again, the fact that aurochs are extinct wild cattle is unimportant – this is a world on the edge, precariously so, as seen through the eyes of a young girl as she comes to terms with her independence.
I loved this film. Give yourself over to its mystery and to its imagery and its strange message of hope and make of them what you will. It will be worth it.