The ghost of Tennessee Williams hovers over Eve’s Bayou (Trimark). The action takes place in a moss-draped Louisiana backwater, and the family under observation (in their big, gracious bayou house) is as ripe with desires, disappointments, and the mysterious scent of sex as any in Mr. Williams’ neighborhood. But the notable accomplishment of actress-writer Kasi Lemmons (The Silence of the Lambs) in her feature directorial debut is in creating a landscape quite beautiful and entirely her own — a fluid, feminine, African-American, Southern gothic narrative that covers a tremendous amount of emotional territory with the lightest and most graceful of steps.

The story belongs to young Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollett, from Jack). ”The summer I killed my father, I was 10 years old,” a grown-up Eve announces in a provocative prologue voice-over. But the drama that unfolds (in an unspecified bygone era when well-to-do black women wore gorgeous dresses to parties in their own homes) is far more shape-shifting than such an audience-grabbing statement can convey. Eve’s father, Louis (Samuel L. Jackson, in easy, sexy command), is a suave, popular doctor and gentle family man who’s also a womanizer — a flaw that bedevils Eve’s graceful mother (Lynn Whitfield) and especially torments Eve’s older sister, Cisely (Meagan Good), who adores her daddy perhaps more than she should. Eve, meanwhile, worships her big sister. And in reaching out to support Cisely in a primal sexual struggle neither girl really understands, Eve turns first to her father’s sister, Aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan, in a blazing performance), a vibrant, enigmatic woman infused with good-witch spiritual powers, and then to Elzora (Diahann Carroll in mesmerizing whiteface), a voodoo priestess with potent bad-witch abilities.

Lemmons thus lays out big themes — the little seductions of fathers and daughters, the thick bonds between sisters, the power of dark and light spiritual intentions in the material world. But she covers any traces of ”heaviness” with shimmering, dream-state visual elegance (courtesy of cinematographer Amy Vincent). And she makes up for any performance rough spots from the movie’s younger actors with a lovely score from Spike Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard and a great soundtrack of classic jazz and blues. A-

Eve's Bayou
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