Eve’s Bayou

Eve’s Bayou (1997)
Trimark Home Video
Cast: Jurnee Smollet, Lynn Whitfield, Samuel L. Jackson, Debbie Morgan
Extras: Commentary Track, “Dr. Hugo” Short Film, Isolated Score, Theatrical Trailer

Eve’s Bayou is an exceedingly charming movie, that surprises and entertains on many levels. Most astonishingly however, this film is the debut of first-time writer and director Kasi Lemmons, who brings her very unique, female touch into this movie, which turns out to be one of the film’s strongest elements. "Eve’s Bayou" displays a kind of sensuality and poetry that seems to be unbeknownst to us men, conjuring up luring images and strong personal feelings.

"The summer I killed my father, I was 10 years old…" With those opening words, the film sets its mood from the very first second of its running time for the things to come, underlayed by atmospheric and dense black and white photography. It is then quickly replaced by rich and beautiful color images in a masterfully created, smooth cut, as if we were paging through our own memories, touching upon things we vaguely remember and those we remember all too well.

The film tells the story of Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollet), a 10 year old girl in the summer of 1962. Descendents of a famous and respected slave family, the Batiste’s have a huge mansion in the Louisiana bayou, surrounded by rivers and swamps. While her mother Roz (Lynn Whitfield) has a loving preference for her smaller brother, her father Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) favors her older sister Cisely (Meagan Good), leaving Eve in an isolated, but beloved, position. Eve compensates for this with her close relationship to her aunt Mozelle (Debbie Morgan), who doesn’t treat her like a little girl, but respects her as a true friend. Over the course of a summer, the story of the Batiste family is told through the eyes of Eve. A story, that is both tragic and uplifting. It is a story about love, passion, family ties and a little bit of mysticism, when Eve finds out she possesses the same gift as her aunt Mozelle. She can see the future of others, but never her own.

The film has a visual and storytelling strength that will capture you immediately as movie starts and will not let loose until the end credits are over. It is a rather slowly evolving story that utilizes the plot device of telling it through the eyes of a 10-year old child, in a way similar to the classic "To Kill A Mockingbird" and it is just as beautiful and strong a film. It is masterfully filmed and edited, filled with beautiful and sensual imagery that touch the viewer deep inside, hitting on our nostalgic nerves that help us remembering, just how beautiful and wondrous the world around us was when we were children. The film’s story is quite adult however, making the clash between this dreamy world of Eve and the reality of life more obvious.

Samuel L. Jackson is heading a phenomenal cast in "Eve’s Bayou". All the characters are so tangible and believable that you feel placed right in the midst of the film. Jackson’s portrayal of the womanizer who is still a loving and caring father and husband is essential to the film’s believability.

Lynn Whitfield, exhibits a radiant elegance in her portrayal of the suffering wife Roz, that literally takes in the whole screen. She symbolizes the beauty which we all have seen in our own mothers and the grace she puts in this part is mesmerizing.

Debbie Morgan as aunt Mozelle is another performance highlight of this film. She is a very tragic character that never bows and accepts life the way it is. She is quite similar to her brother Louis, as they are both healers of some kind. While he heals the body, it is her job to heal people’s minds. With her visions she helps people overcome their personal tragedies, while she is unable to foresee her own future. It is a blessing and a curse at the same time and the way Morgan is portraying this multi- facetted character is masterly.

The movie would be nowhere near as good without Jurnee Smollet’s portrayal of Eve, the story’s main character. She is an extremely gifted actress that I am sure we will hear more of in the future. Considering her age, she is putting so much heart, soul and skill into the tragic character of Eve that is becomes mind-boggling. She is a first-class act that allows you to feel with her, to experience the pain, the fear and the disappointments she’s facing in this adult world. She literally crosses the line between acting and "being" and becomes Eve Batiste as soon as she enters the scene for the first time. "Eve’s Bayou" is coming as a disc filled with high quality supplements from Trimark Home Video. Although it is one of Trimark’s first DVD releases, it exhibits a quality that can easily measure up with some of the best in the industry. It indicates that Trimark must have spend quite some time, effort and money to work out all the problems and loopholes of the format, other publishers were originally facing, before they went to market with their discs. It is very pleasing to see this kind of seriousness from a publisher who has big plans and hopes for the DVD format. The disc’s quality is flawless with a clean <$PS,widescreen> transfer that is sharp and well defined and does not exhibit any digital artifacts. The colors are rich and well saturated, rendering completely natural looking fleshtones, while giving the disc a very smooth atmosphere, without losing any details. The film contains some very difficult lighting situations that have expertly been mastered and transferred to this disc without any noise or color smearing.

The same technical quality that went into the visual transfer of this movie, is apparent in the sonic section of the disc. It contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack that is making mostly subtle but highly effective use of the split surrounds, creating a realistic atmosphere that lets you submerge right into the pictures of the bayou. The film’s music score is carefully placed and brings to life the lifestyle of the bayou and Louisiana area. Tastefully orchestrated, it is a great addition to this extraordinary film. Although this DVD contains only an English soundtrack, it features additional French and Spanish subtitles. The disc also contains a running length <$commentary,commentary track>, featuring writer/director Kasi Lemmons, director of photography Amy Vincent and the film’s editor, Terilyn Shropshire. The track is interesting and shows how much passion they actually have for the film and how much insight went into the creation and portrayal of its characters although I personally found it somewhat amusing, just how many "favorite scenes" one can have in a single movie.

The disc contains a lot of supplements that would easily justify calling it a "Special Edition" although Trimark does not do so. Apart from the film itself there is the <$commentary,commentary track> and the isolated music score from the film. The disc also contains "Dr. Hugo" a 10-minute short-film from Kasi Lemmons that built the foundation to the story of "Eve’s Bayou". It is a nice and very stylish film that exhibits exactly the same beauty and intuition as the feature film. Other than that the film also contains cast biographies and the film’s theatrical trailer.

"Eve’s Bayou" got me by surprise. I had heard many good thing about the movie, but seeing it on this outstanding DVD, made me realize, just how stylish movies can look and feel like if the people involved share a vision. It is not only the directorial style that impresses, it is the story, the editing, the lush cinematography, the beauty of the settings, the top notch acting with intelligent characters and dialogues, as well as the quality of this DVD release from Trimark. Make sure to give this disc a try.