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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/23/00

Eve’s Bayou
1997 (1999) - Trimark

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Eve's Bayou Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/B+

Specs and Features

108 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with writer/director Kasi Lemmons, director of photography Amy Vincent and editor Terilyn A. Shropshire), MCA soundtrack commercial, theatrical trailer, Dr. Hugo (a short film by Kasi Lemmons), cast and crew bios/filmographies, film-themed menu screens with animation, scene access (36 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"The summer I killed my father, I was ten years old. My brother, Poe, was ten and my sister, Cisely, had just turned fourteen."

At its heart, Eve's Bayou is about memory and how it influences our perception of events of the past and our future actions. In Eve's opening words, she tells us she killed her father. Did she really kill him, or has she just convinced herself that she did? It is in the viewer's best interest to decide that for themselves and let the director lead you through it, which she does remarkably in this lyrical, haunting drama.

In the wave of hype that followed Titanic to the Oscars and beyond in 1997, several films were overlooked when it came time to dole out the awards. Two of them took on similarly heavy subject matter, dealing with secrets, guilt, and shame in the family structure. The first was The Ice Storm, which has yet to make its way to DVD, and the other is Eve's Bayou, the impressive writing and directing debut of actress Kasi Lemmons.

Eve's Bayou centers on the Batiste family in the bayou region of Louisiana. Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) is the town's most respected and loved doctor and husband of the beautiful, if too forgiving, Roz (Lynn Whitfield). Louis' numerous house calls make it all too easy for him to indulge his tendency to cheat on his naive and trusting wife. Yet it is not only Roz who neglects to see her husband's infidelity - it is the entire family. All of them, that is, except Eve, played wonderfully by newcomer Jurnee Smollett. In a brilliant scene that perfectly demonstrates the fear and confusion brought about in a child when they witness what to them is unknown, Eve sees firsthand what the rest of her family doesn't want to see. Unsure of what to do next, she turns to her Aunt Mozelle, an extraordinary psychic, who is the family's black sheep. When the family's secrets are brought to light, all the guilt and shame associated with them rise to the surface and give way to some most powerful and mysterious consequences. The movie's tagline says it all; the secrets that hold us together can also tear us apart.

Sadly, in the realm of acting, Kasi Lemmons has pretty much been confined to the role of the typical Hollywood-style "black best friend," in such movies as Silence of the Lambs and Candyman, but she certainly should get noticed in the director's chair. She proves that a first-time director can make magic when combined with great talent and a great story. Given a good director, Samuel L. Jackson can pull off some amazing work. In the wrong hands, his performances can be flat and uninteresting - witness his one-dimensional work in Deep Blue Sea. The fact that his effectiveness in Eve's Bayou is unmistakable and ever present speaks volumes about Lemmons' talent. It would have made for a less engaging movie (and an easier one to make, for that matter) had she chosen to bring the family's secrets out through the eyes of the adults, but she chose instead to do so through Eve. In that choice, she gives us a truer sense of the immediate effects of family discord, by showing how it affects the children.

The choice of location also aids in the movie's storytelling. The bayous and swamps of Louisiana seem filled with an enchantment all their own, and the fear of the obscure is magnified by the legendary voodoo of the area. The secrets run as deep as the waters of the swamps. Weaving mysticism and magic into the story line gives the movie a prose-like feel, that lifts it above an average "family on the verge of breaking down" story and brings it into the territory of timeless, engaging movie making.

While not a full-blown special edition, Trimark added some nice touches to their DVD release of this little gem of a film. Eve's Bayou is presented here in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Overall, this is a very clean transfer, with only a few instances of artifacting. Colors are well maintained and saturated, and rarely is there any bleed in them. Flesh tones are natural and even. Nonetheless, it still could have benefited greatly from anamorphic enhancement. The 5.1 audio track is also very good. There is a good use of rear surround separation, particularly notable during the thunderstorm scene. Dialogue is clear, decipherable, and for the most part maintained to the center speaker. This is not an overly dynamic sound mix, but my guess is that if you're watching this film, you're not looking for sound effects and spacial integration.

The extras are noteworthy. First off, there are some nifty little menu screens, set up like a family photo album to take you through the different areas of the disc. Select an area, and the page flips. There is a running commentary by Lemmons and a few of the other filmmakers. While by no means extraordinary, it does give you some insight as to why the filmmakers made some of the choices they did. Before Trimark would green light Eve's Bayou, they wanted to make sure Lemmons was capable of making a feature length film, so they asked her to direct a film short. Using an excised part of the Eve's Bayou script, which she later lengthened, Lemmons filmed Dr. Hugo (also available on this DVD). The short is not without its flaws, but it does show a promising filmmaker - one with enough skill and originality to impress Trimark. The short also has a commentary, and I found this commentary to be more involved than the commentary on the feature film. Also included is a soundtrack presentation, French & Spanish subtitles, filmographies, and the movie's theatrical trailer.

All in all, this is a pretty good DVD edition of a movie that, for one reason or another, was ignored when it came time to hand out little golden statuettes. You could sit and argue the reasons why that was, but why bother? It's a hell of a lot more enjoyable, and less taxing, to sit back and watch it at home. Fans of good drama, good acting and good cinema should not miss this one.

Dan Kelly
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