Eve's Bayou

Eve's Bayou

As a piece of melodrama, this film is severely damaged by its egregiously overblown score. It's smooth, loud, and wells up right at the wrong moments, as if hamming up the soundtrack somehow makes hammed up acting more palatable. Between this slap in the face and the occasional awkward moments from Jurnee Smollett (who would grow up to be on Friday Night Lights, one of the best television show sever made) and her character's sister, the performances suffered a bit. On the other hand, Smollett also delivers the funniest, most impressive moment in the film as she takes her mother to task, so it evens out.

I don't know what a realistic, intelligent portrayal of voodoo would look like, probably because no one has ever done one in a film*, but I doubt the one given here is perfect. If nothing else, I suspect that it, like most religions, has rules against killing that this film ignores. This was not the most clownish portrayal I could imagine, either, and it doesn't openly mock the religion. But there's a mercenarial feel to it that seems off.

Despite all of this, the film is still remarkable. The story explores, harshly, the angst of adolescence, the haziness of memory, and the manner in which parental conflict can be internalized and personalized by children. The coming-of-age aspect is largely the province of the older sister, who is trying to break free of parental confines and struggles through her confusion, revealing an Oedipal darkness that spills over into the theme of memory. Subjectivity is one thing, but memory is scientifically proven to be untrustworthy.

Like dreams, memories are incomplete fragments of our actual experiences, and much of what we "remember" is, if I am remembering intro to psych correctly, constructed. This film plays on that for a crucial plot point, but it also explores memories in cleverly built flashbacks (that monologue/story from Mozelle about her last husband's death that plays out in mirrors is kinda fun despite being so dark), and as it ends, the film suggests that this entire work could be unreliable in some regards. Combining this with the guilt Eve carries over the climax of the film, and it's possible that much of this tale is a result of misplaced guilt, and all mystic connections are the magical realistic imaginings of a child. (The film goes out of its way to provide mundane and magical reasons for the climax, too.)

The other strong point of the film is the depth and agency of the female characters. Ultimately, everything that plays out is out of sisterly love and protectiveness, one sister acting to avenge another (and learning in the process the dangers of revenge and acting in a rage). The film shows most women to be more than, say, a wife. They have power and standing, and despite the patriarchal culture (which is exemplified in the philandery depicted here), they are not shadows of the men they love. The film is not perhaps the ideal feminist fairytale, but it's a solid statement.

Black History Month! I am joining others on this site in focusing on African, African-American, and African-influenced cinema. February count: 1/28

* And because it's pretty commercialized around these parts. It makes it hard to tell what's an authentic belief/tradition and what's being sold to tourists.

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