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Eve's Bayou

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Eve's Bayou

Starring: Jurnee Smollett, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Rated: R
RunTime: 109 Minutes
Release Date: November 1997
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Meagan Good, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Jake Smollett, Ethel Ayler, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Lisa Nicole Carson, Tamara Tunie, Diahann Carroll

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie review

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

If you wandered into this movie ten minutes late without knowing a thing about it, you might swear it was either a sequel to Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" or August Wilson's "The Piano Lesson Part II: the 1960s." How surprised you'd be to find out that this lyrical Southern Gothic feast trimmed with the precise amount of mysticism and framed by some glorious photography of the primitive-looking Louisiana swamps is a first-time directorial effort. Kasi Lemmons, who wrote and directed "Eve's Bayou," has immersed herself in the mind of a ten-year old girl named Eve Batiste, through whose eyes this adult tale is seen. This old- fashioned, multi-generational story which received a screening at Colorado's Telluride Film Festival focuses on a prosperous Black Louisiana family and is not only told from a woman's point of view: its entire vista unfolds as a story dominated by its women. Yet its racial and gender crossover potential is great, given the solid, realistic acting of its well-known all- Black cast and the effective merging of voodoo, romance, cultural values, and panorama. Perhaps "Eve's Bayou" is underscored more by what it is not than by what it embraces. It is, happily enough, not another inner-city, macho 'hood story of drugs and gangster activity, nor is it yet another racial diatribe or a feel-good buddy movie about Blacks and Whites teaming up against real enemies. Little Eve (played by the remarkably expressive, ten-year- old Jurnee Smollettt) begins her voiceover narration with a poetic statement that sets the tone for the movie: "Memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others printed indelibly on the brain. The summer I killed my father, I was 10 years old." Put yourself in the place of this child, one who could be of any race, as she observes events surrounding the family mansion, and understand how she might overreact to some and, at other times, do what she can to save the integrity and even the very lives of members of her household. At a lavish party given by her parents, her face turns enraged with jealousy as she observes her dad, Louis Batiste (Samuel L. Jackson), dancing with her 14-year-old sister Cisely (Meagan Good) while effectively ignoring her. Moments later, asleep in the barn which serves as a wine cellar, she awakens from a dark corner only to notice her father engaged in sexual activity with Matty Mereaux (Lisa Nicole Carson), who is married to a New Orleans teacher, Lenny (Roger Guenveur Smith). Eagerly telling her sister what she has watched, she is told to forget what she observed as she was mistaken: her father was simply telling a joke and Matty was leaning into him with laughter. Much of "Eve's Bayou" deals with the thin line between truth and illusion, between reality and the arcane. In this regard Mozelle Batiste Delacroix (Debbi Morgan) becomes the story's center. Mozelle, who has psychic powers and has been married three times to men who have all died as though afflicted with her curse, is able to hold her clients' palms and capture images of people her patrons are anxious to find. Each of Mozelle's visions is effectively photographed as surreal, black-and-white images, in one case of the missing wife of a client who is in the arms of another man, in another a young man in Detroit whom she sees shooting up drugs. So seriously does Mozelle's sister Cisely take her powers that when Mozelle foresees a child struck fatally by a vehicle, Cisely refuses to allow her daughters to go outside. Writer-director Kasi Lemmons affixes resonance to her story by situating it in a historical context. Some generations back, a slave named Eve saved the life of her master. In return, she is given her freedom and presents her former owner with sixteen children. These are some of the descendants of that union: the ten-year-old is named for that slave. "Eve's Bayou," then, represents some of the most significant images affixed in the mind of its title character, understandably enough centering on moments of sexuality involving her dad. At one point, a seminal event (so to speak) occurs in which her father either attempts to seduce his fourteen-year-old daughter or, paradoxically enough, takes aggressive steps to stop the young woman from seducing him. Jurnee Smollett rivets as Eve with exceptional performances from Debbi Morgan as the clairvoyant Mozelle and, in a smaller role, the legendary Diahann Carroll as a witch-like competitor of Mozelle whose evil eye is blamed for the movie's tragic end.

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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