Combustible Celluloid Review - Eve's Bayou (1997), Kasi Lemmons, Kasi Lemmons, Jurnee Smollett, Meagan Good, Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Jake Smollett, Ethel Ayler, Diahann Carroll, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Roger Guenveur Smith
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With: Jurnee Smollett, Meagan Good, Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Jake Smollett, Ethel Ayler, Diahann Carroll, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Roger Guenveur Smith
Written by: Kasi Lemmons
Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and language
Running Time: 109
Date: 09/06/1997

Eve's Bayou (1997)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Voodoo Thrall

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It feels like I've seen dozens of films this year by first time writers and directors, and not one has stuck to me until now. Eve's Bayou is a most interesting debut by an actress named Kasi Lemmons. You might remember her face from such films as School Daze, The Silence of the Lambs, Hard Target, and Fear of a Black Hat, but she has chosen to not appear in her first film as a writer and director. Instead, she draws upon the skills she must have learned from watching and working with filmmakers such as Spike Lee, Robert Townsend, Jonathan Demme and John Woo.

Eve's Bayou is an unusual and original story about a black family descended from a rich French settler and a black voodoo slave woman who married and bore 16 children. The youngest daughter is named Eve after her. The family, which speaks a mix of French and English, lives in an enormous house next to the swamp. Eve's aunt Mozelle practices voodoo and witchcraft, helping people find things. Eve herself has visions of the past and the future.

Voodoo plays an important part of the story of Eve's Bayou, which has many threads running through it. The ensemble cast threads in and out of each other's lives and affairs, with an air of eerie dread hanging over everything. Refreshingly, the subject of race does not come up. Not so refreshingly, the film is filled with violent threats -- unresolved violence. This simmering tension runs through the film and works in a different way than a violent explosion and payoff would.

Each character is fully fleshed out and beautifully acted. Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) plays Eve's father (and also produced the film -- which no doubt never would have been made if not for his influence). Eve is played remarkably by young Jurnee Smollett. I shouldn't single out anyone, though. The entire cast is perfect. The film was photographed by Amy Vincent, also a first timer, and she announces her presence as one of the most promising cinematographers in a long time. Her bayou is lush and dark at the same time, perfectly complimenting Lemmons's story. I hope these two artists work together again.

Eve's Bayou is emotionally loaded, beautiful, uneasy, powerful, and uneven. It's a fascinating first film, and one of the best movies of 1997.

In 2022, the Criterion Collection not only released a long-awaited Blu-ray edition, but also Lemmons's 115-minute director's cut! This cut includes a new commentary track by Lemmons, producer Caldecot Chubb, editor Terilyn A. Shropshire, and cinematographer Amy Vincent. We also get Lemmons's short film Dr. Hugo, a new interview with Lemmons, a cast reunion (recorded over Zoom during the pandemic), a piece on composer Terence Blanchard (featuring Lemmons), and a photo gallery (including Vincent's black-and-white Polaroid test shots). A second disc includes the 109-minute theatrical cut, with optional subtitles. This is a film to be treasured. Very highly recommended.

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