One of the most assured debuts in years, Benh Zeitlin's folk tale is a portrait of the wonder and heartbreak that comes with being too young to understand what you experience. Six-year old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives in a swamp community where decadent Mardi Gras-style celebrations occur daily. She equates her south-of-the-levees shack with the inevitable destruction of the South Pole's climate, but the film is more interested in her fear of extinction than it is in anything political. Katrina may not intervene, but it hangs over the plot like a cloud — Hushpuppy's attempts to get over the impending death of her father conflated with the inevitable destruction of her home. Some moments seem derivative, or unnecessarily enigmatic. But Zeitlin finds truth in the astonished faces of his amateur actors, and the sheer exuberance of his most stunning visuals suggests an artistic voice far too strong to write off.