Louisiana: home to crayfish, spicy Creole dishes with extra hot sauce, snakes slithering across tree branches, and fireflies that sing love songs in Cajun French to one twinkling star in particular? Nope–wrong movie. This week’s film may not feature the New Orleans jazz or Mardi Gras celebrations of The Princess & the Frog (the only other Louisiana-set film that springs immediately to mind), but it has more than its share of humidity, moody swamp scenes, and small-town Southern drama. Do all of these elements combine to create a satisfyingly spicy pot of jambalaya?
Over the course of a hot Louisiana summer, 10-year-old Eve uncovers secrets about her family that lead to her to take drastic action.
In 1960s Louisiana, narrator Eve Batiste pulls no punches, telling us right off the bat that she was 10 when she killed her father. Say what, now?
The Batiste family descends from General Jean Paul Batiste and Eve, an enslaved woman for whom the Creole-settled bayou is named. By the ’60s, the family is one of the most prosperous in the area, throwing any number of swanky, well-attended parties. It’s during one such party that tomboyish Eve, always in the shadow of her older sister Cisely, runs off. As a result, Eve sees her father Louis, a respected doctor, sneaking around with a married woman. After Cisely convinces her sister this can’t have possibly been true, Eve buries the memory and pretends nothing ever happened.
However, Eve isn’t the only one with suspicions–her uncle Harry nearly has a drunken fistfight with Louis. After the fight breaks up, Aunt Mozelle drives her inebriated husband home…though a car crash on the rainy night leads to his sudden death. A psychic counselor, Aunt Mozelle believes she is cursed as she has lost three husbands to tragic, violent deaths.
Mozelle draws a distinction between herself and the fortune teller down at the market, who is rumored to speak nonsense and practice voodoo. However, after having her fortune told, Eve’s mother Roz becomes convinced something ominous is in the near future. Roz decides the only solution is to keep her children inside for the duration of the summer, never letting them out of her sight.
Though her younger brother remains oblivious, Eve is a keen observer, using the time stuck inside to notice just how frequently her father is absent and how strained her parents’ marriage is. Meanwhile, Cisely becomes increasingly rebellious, chopping her hair off in favor of a more grown-up style and speaking back to her mother in defense of her father.
In a dark twist, a child is killed after he is hit by a bus. This spells good news for the Batiste children, who are finally allowed outside again now that the foretold danger has passed. However, Cisely reveals to Eve that their father recently sexually assaulted her. Vowing to protect her sister, Eve begins planting seeds of doubt in the mind of Mr. Mereaux, an unsuspecting man whose wife is having an affair with Louis. Eve also pays a visit to the mysterious psychic, demanding to know how one goes about killing someone with voodoo.
Has Eve set in motion a plan that will yield more than she’s bargained for?
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
Though the plot is itself somewhat melodramatic, it feels appropriate for the atmosphere, a Southern Gothic in which everyone is stifled by the heat and long-buried secrets. There are beautifully shot scenes of the Louisiana swamp and its looming cypress trees for days, all the better to emphasize the turmoil in our characters’ lives.
Men are a part of the plot, but this is very much a story about women and sisterhood. Aunt Mozelle in particular is a standout character who is the rock of her family when her brother consistently disappoints. She cares deeply for her family and is a role model to Eve with the strength, independence, and compassion she demonstrates. It seems Mozelle is destined to repeat a cycle of heartbreak for the rest of her life, but it makes her no less willing to continue to open up her heart. Coincidentally, she continues the subtheme of this blog, women who look good smoking, and she does it with ease.
Beyond female power and community, the nature of memory is crucial to the unfolding of the film’s events. The way Eve and Cisely in particular question their memories of specific acts has the power to change utterly how they relate to their family and each other. The effect of memories surfacing or failing to surface in these characters’ minds is chilling.
The only thing that doesn’t sit well with me is the way sexual assault is at the center of the concept of memory as unstable and ever-changing. The way it’s set up in the film, there seem to be two different stories of what happened between Louis and Cisely that are equally likely. This is for dramatic effect, as it makes us at the audience wrestle with Eve’s actions. Is it really relevant, though? Louis is the adult here, and, whatever happened, it feels gross to suggest that Cisely was in control of their relationship in a way that may diminish the actions of her father.