A little bit of black magic

Andrew Worsdale : Movie of the week

If, like myself and many others, you are tired of African-American films that are full of violence, drugs and depressing representations of the black community, you’ll take a shine to Eve’s Bayou.

The story revolves around a 10-year-old girl who seems to have the perfect family: a father who practices medicine, an elegant and devoted mother, an older sister who is more like a best friend and a younger brother.

The trouble is, her father is a philanderer. The film deals with the young girl’s suspicion of her father’s infidelity which eventually leads to her inadvertently killing him. Throw in a bit of voodoo, and there you have the heart of the film.

Set in Louisiana in the 1960s, Eve’s Bayou deals with Creole superstition and sorcery.

The enigmatic yet precocious youngster (played by Jurnee Smollett) is given counsel by her aunt who is a psychic counsellor. She also visits another “reader” (played by Diahann Caroll), who practices at the local market, in order to avenge her elder sister who was supposedly abused by her father.

There is a lot of philosophising in this film. But despite the pretension and a certain languidness in pace, Eve’s Bayou is a welcome relief from smash-’em-up thrillers.

With its understated performances, the seemingly carefully chosen pauses between dialogue exchanges and the great cinematography, it is an engrossing tale that is beautifully told.

In many ways the film reminds me of Charles Burnett’s To Sleep With Anger which too deals with African-American issues without bringing in guns or drug abuse and had elements of “voodoo”. Eve’s Bayou is altogether more charming, but no less gripping.

The tableaux of strong women and young girls makes for a major feminist thrust that is underplayed through the charisma of the children in the story.

This movie joins something like My Life as a Dog in the genre of movies about children that are really meant for adult viewers, and exemplifies the fact that youngsters are probably more moralistic than their elders.

I had some problems with the movie though. Too much of the film is underscored by music, and I thought there to be too many homespun philosophies. But an American friend told me that it is a completely accurate depiction of Louisiana life.

The film might not be as dramatically strong or as forceful as it could be, but the leisurely way in which it draws out a perfectly written drama is completely engrossing.

Samuel L Jackson, who plays the wayward father and is also an executive producer of the movie, says Indie films seem to have “a certain spirit that goes along where everyone’s there pitching in, doing more than one job … They share the director’s passion. There’s a huge passion in it.”

However Eve’s Bayou does not overdo the passion bit. It is not an “in-your-face” movie, but rather a good story which is beautifully told. More of the same please.

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Niren Tolsi
Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist whose interests include social justice, citizen mobilisation and state violence, protest, the Constitution and Constitutional Court, football and Test cricket.

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