You are going to hear all kinds of things about Benh Zeitlin's film "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; most of those things will be positive. After all, it won the Grand Jury Prize and Cinematography Award at Sundance, then turned around and won four separate awards including the Golden Camera (cinematography) and Federation Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique International Federation of Film Critics Prize.


You are going to hear lots about how well it was photographed and the help it received from Sundance, etc. But what you might not hear is that it is one of the best stories ever told and one of the best casting jobs in years. And that is what you are mainly interested in, what is it about and how was it performed. And the truth is it was performed innocently and purely by two people you may never hear from again. The story is a flight of fancy unlike any you have ever experienced.

Quvenzhane Wallis plays six year old Hushpuppy who lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in the Bathtub - a section of Louisiana cut off from the rest of the world by levees and water. They and the residences of the Bathtub are the poorest of the poor. Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck would have referred to them as the wretched poor. And that is the context by which you must compare this fabulous film - the narrative goes up against the classics.


The people of the Bathtub are poor, sure enough... but they are happy. Well, mostly happy. Wink hasn't been the same since his wife has "gone", so now it's just him and Hushpuppy trying to make it.


But Hushpuppy makes mistakes and he has to get on her about things because she needs to be prepared for life. He really has to get on her when she practically burns down the house by accident. But that's tough love.


However, when a storm hits hit's a given that the storm in question is hurricane Katrina, the Bathtub is hit hard and Hushpuppy's imagination takes over. And in this imagination the movie comes alive even more.

With her father's health failing it's now time for Hushpuppy to grow up, but how does a child do that? By seeing the local wise-person, in this case Miss Bathsheeba (Gina Montana) who warns her of impending doom of the melting ice, dying trees and animals and... you know fanciful stuff that children conger.


When they are forced to live in a boat fashioned out of a puck-up truck bed as they wait for help and the waters to recede. (I was reminded of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and their great adventures only this time with a waif from Louisiana.)


When relief finally arrives, it is only then that Hushpuppy learns the extent of her Wink's illness - it is grave and Hushpuppy truly must learn how to survive.


Yet amid all the poverty and tragedy, we have an incredibly gorgeous film with a fabulous story of life, family, neighbors, climate change and history - narrated by a six year old. A terrific film for the entire family.


That is the magic of Zeitlin's work, it is both gritty and gorgeous; traumatic and triumphant at the same time. Quvenzhane Wallis is a delight just as Dwight Henry is powerful. By the way, he was no stranger to fame, his bakery, The Buttermilk Drop has been a New Orleans favorite for years.


"Beasts of the Southern Wild" is easily one of the best films of the year and may grow legs to stand until Oscar time. It's that good!   -- GEOFF BURTON