Kasi Lemmon’s directorial and writing debut is an insanely well-crafted first feature that not only holds up twenty-three years later but is an outstanding film with sequences that are among the best of their type put to film. While Lemmon’s debut is outstanding, so is the young lead’s, (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) performance. There is nothing in this film that isn’t expertly crafted – from the score by Terence Blanchard that established so much of the tone, to the gorgeous cinematography by Amy Vincent – Eve’s Bayou is a cinematic journey that all should embark.
Eve (Smollett-Bell) is the middle child of Louis Batiste (Samuel L. Jackson) and Roz Batiste (Lynn Whitfield) growing up in the ‘60s in Louisana. During a party, Eve catches her father having an affair with a family friend. She reveals this to her older sister, Cisely (Meagan Good), who tells Eve she must have been mistaken. The realization about her father, a local doctor, and “hero” to some women, slowly starts to unravel her world.
The amount of emotion that Smollett-Bell is able to bring to this role speaks highly of both her talent and Lemmon’s ability to direct a young actress. There is a sense of melodrama that permeates scenes in the film, and Smollett-Bell and Good are often called upon to be the emotional backbone of those moments. There is so much simmering tension in the characters, and great restraint is shown by all of the performers while still delivering exactly what is going on in their minds.
The big stand out is Debbi Morgan as Eve’s fortune-telling Aunt, Mozelle Batiste Delacroix. She believes herself to be cursed, as each of her husbands has all met tragic ends. The best scene in the film comes from this pain and loss. In one of several conversations between Mozelle and Eve, Mozelle begins to explain the details of one of her husband’s deaths. Lemmons crafts the scene to take place in a mirror, and how the story is told visually is so outstanding it literally took my breath away.
When I watch a movie and it sticks with me and compels me to read reviews, watch Q&As, and learn more about the production, I know that I’ve been taken. This is a film that I’d definitely seen the cover, heard the title, and otherwise knew nothing about. While I wasn’t really big on Lemmon’s most recent film, Harriet (2019), I am a huge fan of Eve’s Bayou. If you have recently subscribed to HBO Max, you are in luck – because Eve’s Bayou is available to stream from there! There is no doubt to me that this movie is a Must See film.