Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Eve's Bayou

What a great title: Eve's Bayou (1997). You get the Biblical connotations with Eve, and the bayou conjures image of a dense, tangled moss of wetlands and intrigue, a great setting for a story of labyrinth motivations and character revelations.

Written and directed by Kasi Lemmons (who had supporting performances in The Silence of the Lambs and Candyman), Eve's Bayou is a dark, Southern Gothic, coming-of-age melodrama set in the Louisiana bayou in the town of Eve's Bayou, a place where modernity lives alongside superstition and our protagonist, Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollett), learns hard lessons about how adults aren't perfect and the world can be a cruel, illogical place.

"The summer I killed my father I was 10 years old," the grown Eve confides to us as the movie opens. The movie chronicles that fateful summer when Eve discovered her father Louis  (Samuel L. Jackson), the town doctor, is very attentive to his young, attractive female patients if you catch my drift.

Eve catches her father with another woman, and this knowledge hangs over her through the entire movie. She's not old enough to know about sex or adultery, but she understands her father is doing something wrong that threatens to tear apart her family. She doesn't know what to do. Eventually, through her aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan), Eve learns about Voodoo.

The Voodoo of Eve's Bayou is deliberately ambiguous. It's hard to say whether it impacts the characters. Everything that happens could be read either way, via supernatural means or mundane explanations. Mozelle and Eve both have visions - figures walking through the mist, predictions of the future flashing before them, memories of the past reflected in a mirror - but are they really seeing ghostly phantasms or is the movie visualizing what they think they see?

It doesn't matter. The characters believe the magic is real, including Eve's mother Roz (Lynn Whitfield), who after a vision by Mozelle, orders her three children to remain indoors for the rest of the summer. Surely, locking three children, ages 8-14, in a hot house when tensions and temperature are high won't cause any strain or problems, right? Especially when Eve's older sister Cisely (Meagan Good) already blames their mom for driving their dad away?

Eve's Bayou is dark and tortured, but it's not a horror film. The Voodoo elements are a background to the character drama, although that doesn't stop Lemmons from giving the film other-worldly touches. In one of the best scenes in the movie, Mozelle describes how her lover shot her husband, and we see the men reflected in the mirror as she tells the story to Eve; when she gets to her part, she steps out of frame before re-appearing in the mirror as part of the action.

The past lives on, breathing alongside the present.

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