Every few years a film comes along that within moments of its start you know in every part of your body and spirit that you are about to see something truly exceptional. Whether it's the images, the narration or dialogue, the music, or all three, there's a magic that is transmitted from screen to audience in a nanosecond.
A few years ago, one film that hit me this way was the French-Canadian film, Incendies, directed by the astonishing Denis Villeneuve, which garnered an Oscar nod. The opening sequence back-dropped with a haunting tune by Radiohead had me at "hello." And I experienced the same sensation upon seeing and hearing the first few frames and first few lines of voice over in Beasts of the Southern Wild.
What was this before me? Was it a fable? Was this story set in some future post-apocalyptic wasteland? Just what was this? As it turned out, it was something just plain extraordinary, thanks to talented director Benh Zeitlin and his team.
The story is set in a land set apart from the rest of the world - that of a Bayou community severed from "civilization" by a daunting levee. One of the residents, a quixotic six-year old girl by the name of Hushpuppy has a simple, yet huge dream - to find her mother, or at the very least be taken care of by her other parent. But her challenges are overwhelming - extreme poverty, a father drinking himself to death, and a coming storm threatening the fine balance upon which her universe teeters and perhaps its existence as she knows and loves.
The ending scenes had me sobbing, and I feared I would be turfed from the theater. But my reaction was more the consequence of some personal events in my own life that have left me feeling fragile. Despite what might sound like a morose plot line, this is a glorious, life-affirming film. And although based on a play, the setting is portrayed with such imagined brilliance you cannot help but gasp.
Although an independent film, I would hope this mythic work and its performances will not be ignored by the Academy come Oscar time. But this Sundance prize-winner deserves a massive audience. I am a changed person at having seen it.