Kasi Lemmons’s Eve’s Bayou is an intensely emotional family drama that mixes elements of Southern Gothic with the kinds of characters and tensions that prevail in the plays of Tennessee Williams. Anchored by a strong cast, including Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield and Diahann Carroll, this talented debut by a black female writer-director is a well made multi-generational drama.
Focusing on a prosperous and sophisticated Creole family, the film is set in Louisiana in 1962. The Batiste clan is headed by the partriarchal Louis (Jackson), a suave, charming doctor who’s respected and admired by his family and community. Louis is known for his ability to fix things, which includes everything but his own family’s problems. Though married to the beautiful, proud and gracious Roz (Whitfield), he is unable to control his weakness for attractive women, who are often his patients…
In an early sequence, Louis is engaged in an amorous escapade with a very alluring and very married woman, not realising that he’s being observed by his youngest daughter, Eve (Jurnee Smollett), who’s shattered by the experience. The film is a coming-of-age saga, which opens with Eve’s voice-over narration: “Memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others printed indelibly on the brain. That summer I killed my father: I was ten years old”. It is to the director’s credit that, though Louis’s death is known from the start, it’s still shocking to observe the specific circumstances in which he is killed and the effects of his demise on the family.
Lemmons appears to be well versed in the traditions of the South, blending the Gothic, and the primal, the bizarre voodoo rituals and the celebrated Southern gentility into a multilayered narrative that captures in detail the strains upon one black family.