by Benh Zeitlin
American movie, 1 h 52
In 2012, Benh Zeitlin bewitched us with his first film. In Beasts of the Wild South which mixes dark realism and dreamlike vision of the world, a little girl, Hushpuppy, 6, remains alone with her sick father in the makeshift shelter where they live, while a hurricane threatens. The filmmaker had built his screenplay based on his dialogues with the inhabitants of the bayous of southern Louisiana, some of whom had become his actors. Praised by critics, the film had won ten awards in Deauville, Cannes, Sundance and elsewhere. This is to say if his second film was expected.
With Wendy, Benh Zeitlin adapts the story of Peter Pan, a logical choice given the place of the child’s gaze in Beasts of the Wild South. A little girl is bored in the restaurant on the edge of the marshalling yard run by her mother. One evening, with her two brothers, the twins James and Douglas, she boarded a train. The adventure that begins takes them to a wonderful country where Peter Pan reigns over a small band of children who neither grow nor age.
Benh Zeitlin once again planted his camera in Louisiana for the first part of his film, the most convincing, before setting off with Wendy and her brothers to Montserrat, an island of the Antilles with sumptuous landscapes. From his first feature film, the filmmaker takes up most of his team and seductive elements: the grainy images of lush nature, magical realism, the exceptional vitality of an extraordinary community. But while he had known how to lead a controlled narration, he seems here to have been overwhelmed by the wonder and the exaltation of his heroes.
Wild, mischievous and crazy
During a video presentation at the last Deauville festival, the filmmaker evoked “A wild and vague production process, real children as mischievous and crazy as their characters”. If the joyful and indomitable atmosphere of the shoot is clearly reflected on the screen, Benh Zeitlin, captivated by his troops, seems to have forgotten the role of director incumbent on him, at least during the editing …
→ READ. The Dark Side of Peter Pan
Between flashes of fascinating beauty, his film is lost in tedious adventures and futile lengths, as if cuts would have meant renouncing an adult hated by Peter Pan. More astonishing, caught in the emphasis of his characters, the filmmaker indulged in strong effects that border on the ridiculous. Much to our regret.