"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
**** (four stars)
Director Benh Zeitlin's strange and wondrous drama is part anthropological document, part existential fantasy, and all amazing. In "The Bathtub," a remote island village in the Mississippi Delta south of New Orleans, six-year-old Hushpuppy (played with aching realism by newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis) lives a difficult existence with her tough-love father, Wink (Dwight Henry), who teaches her how to live on her own – to prepare her for the inevitability of his departure from this world. Hushpuppy fears the universe will become out of balance, and after an argument with Wink, believes she has caused this cosmic imbalance. The results include the village's flooding, and the release of prehistoric marauding creatures, the eight-foot-tall pig-like Aurochs. Zeitlin's depiction of the do-it-yourself world of "The Bathtub" is awash in inventiveness and regional color. Zeitlin and co-writer Lucy Alibar make Hushpuppy's relationship with Wink, and her yearning for her absent mother, authentic and heartbreaking.
-- Sean P. Means
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