When You Die, Monday Movies Is Gonna Eat a Birthday Cake on Your Grave
Beasts of the Southern Wild — A couple of years ago, Wholphin uploaded Benh Zeitlin’s short film Glory at Sea to Youtube. Watch it:
The same mythic, poetic feeling carries through Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, co-written with playwright Lucy Alibar whose play Juicy and Delicious provides its foundation. In Beasts, father Wink and daughter Hushpuppy live in the Bathtub, a poor and free (but precarious) patch of land cut off from some version of mainland Louisiana. After a flood washes away most of the Bathtub, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis, six years old at time of production) and her father account for their remaining animals and neighbors, and attempt to survive, rebuild, and repair. Hushpuppy’s teacher, Miss Bathsheeba, has shown her charges a tattoo in the style of a cave painting of a fearsome prehistoric aurochs, and in her mind the flood has set the earth out of balance, freeing the aurochs (who here resemble tusked boars the size of brachiosaurs) from their glacier prisons and sending them towards the Bathtub.
Nested inside this apocalypse is a smaller one: Wink’s health is failing. His love for Hushpuppy is rough and loud, consisting in the main of vital lessons, shouted at her: how to eat a crab (use your hands), catch a fish (use your hands), weather a storm (wear your water wings). He wants nothing more than for her to be able to carry on without her — to, however implausibly, know that she already can. “Everybody daddy die!” he tells her in the parking lot of an evacuation station, once the Bathtub has been rounded up by the authorities. The aurochs charge even closer.
I have never seen a movie shot through with so much burning love. On paper, it seems open to a charge of magical Negroism (Hushpuppy, Wink, and many though not all of the Bathtub residents are black), and I can hardly clear it of that charge, but I would find it hard to prove. It has politics–or maybe, anger–in its evocation of its characters and their dignity. But mostly it has power, in its link between the particular and the universal, the natural world and its human inhabitants, the end of the world and the frontiers of childhood. It bears comparison to The Tree of Life, and I hope that if you engaged with that film, you will also look at this one.
Zeitlin, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2004, is part of a filmmakers’ collective called Court 13 that moved to New Orleans after Katrina. By many accounts they went to listen.
To Rome with Love — An enjoyable trifle for Woody Allen to add to his visitor’s bureau tour of European tourist destinations, this anthology films contains
four threefour unrelated sketches of varying levels of payoff. The funniest one stars Allen himself, whose acting style has begun to resemble that of a large Muppet. Allen plays a retired director of avant-garde opera whose daughter has fallen in love with an Italian man who gave her directions. When the machatunim meet, Allen hears the man’s father singing in the shower, and persuades him to audition, where he discovers that he cannot sing outside of the shower. Complications ensue. The singer, played by tenor Fabio Armiliato, is hilarious in his failed audition, frogging out his face as his son’s rage steeps in the audience. Judy Davis is marvelous as Allen’s skeptical wife. There should be more Judy Davis.
In another story, Alec Baldwin plays an architect on vacation, known mostly for shopping malls, recognized by a young student (Jesse Eisenberg, who will have to have another turn at playing “the Woody Allen part”). He returns to the apartment Eisenberg shares with his girlfriend Greta Gerwig (wasted), where he half-disappears, spending the rest of the story as a half-seen Cassandra figure who warns against Gerwig letting her friend, Ellen Page, stay on the couch. Page is hilarious as the girl who “knows one line of everything” and flirts with Eisenberg by saying she’d give anything “to spend the night with Howard Roark,” and Baldwin tries to puncture her pretentiousness but can’t to it. I’m not sure whether Allen is indicting his own intellectualisms in Page’s; since he spares Eisenberg the worst humiliations, it feels as if his heart is mostly in casting Baldwin as an ignored Jiminy Cricket.
The last story is an agreeable burlesque in which a young Italian couple come to Rome on honeymoon and, separated for an afternoon, have their fidelity tested in it’s-different-in-Europe fashion. It’s easy to see any of the three movies as a whole Woody Allen film, even a good one; the three sketches together are amiable and light.
(Update: Mrs. K-sky reminds me that there is a fourth story, in which Roberto Benigni plays a man of no importance who the media suddenly decides is worthy of celebrity. Benigni is fun to watch.)
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