10 October 2004 | film-critic
Memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others printed indelibly on the brain.
This is director Kasi Lemmons' first film and she has entered the world of cinema with a very bold start. Eve's Bayou is a very passionate story about life and love with a family surrounded by dark secrets. Lemmons' has boldly introduced us to a world in which magic is obvious and characters are deeply developed. There isn't one actor in this film that you do not fully appreciate. Everyone in this film gives everything that they have to help create this hidden masterpiece. Roger Ebert named this film the best of 1997, and I agree whole-heartedly. What makes this film different from other films of this nature is that Lemmons keeps us grounded. We are constantly reminded of where we are and whom we are dealing with. There is not some outside element trying to sneak in and disrupt the peace; it is a completely internal movie that allows us to devote ourselves to this desperate family. She controls Jackson with the greatest of ease, and gives us one of the most powerful child performances ever. If I had the chance to give the Oscar to Jurnee Smollett for her role of Eve in this film, I would have gladly handed it to her. Her performance commanded the film. She was the strongest and most beautifully developed character in this film. Smollett was outstanding. I have never been so impressed with a child actor as I was with her in this film. Her eyes gave us all the drama that we needed. I never thought that I would witness acting in its purest form come from a child. For anything, this film is worth seeing just for the performance of Smollett. She literally steals the scenes from everyone, even Mr. Jackson.
I mentioned earlier that I loved the fact that this film kept us grounded by continually showing us scenes from the bayou. It kept our minds focused on where we were and the environment that surrounded these troubled people. Amazingly, Lemmons has transformed this setting into more than just a place, she has given it life. Not only through our characters, but it also is the center of most of the magic that occurs. It is a very symbolic reference. A bayou is a creek or a secondary waterway that is a passageway to another larger body of water. In this film, Eve represents the bayou as she travels to her family, the larger body of water. Also, whenever Mozelle calls upon the 'spirits' her first sight is of the bayou. Lemmons may be saying that the bayou is more than just water, it is the center of everyone's universe in this town. Perhaps it has more meanings, but I really felt that Lemmons was using the bayou as more than just a place setting, it spoke to me more about the characters.
Finally, I would like to add that coupled with the amazing acting, Lemmons gives some of the most memorable direction behind the camera. The scenes when Mozelle speaks about how she lost her second husband (the one that loved her the most) because her lover wanted her to himself was riveting. Told through the mirror, this was one of the most interesting ways to tell a flashback. Instead of using the classic 'black and white' or faded lines trick, Lemmons actually brought the scene to us. We witness it firsthand and this allows us to be impacted deeper. I felt the connection, and it worked.
Overall, this was a gem. I wasn't expecting to see such a caliber of acting and direction as I did in this film. The cinematography was outstanding. Lemmons has an eye and a passion for this film, and it is apparent with every scene that she captures. The Batiste family engulfs all of your emotion. Lemmons takes innocent children and captures you within their world, giving you only brief moments to breathe. She shows us the power behind Jackson's voice and the ability he has to expand his career. This was a surprise for me, but a well enjoyed surprise. I suggest you check this film out when time permits. It is a rare find that you will probably see in the bargain bin at any local store. Pick it up and enjoy it. I do not think you will be disappointed.
Grade: **** out of *****