You probably never even heard of this wonderful little film. I didn’t either until I watched Siskel & Ebert’s Best of 97 show, in which Roger Ebert called “Eve’s Bayou” the best film of the year. I didn’t like it nearly as much, but I can understand why Ebert connected with it. As his Siskel said, Ebert and him picked movies that deeply reflect a time and place while telling a wrenching story among real people (Siskel’s pick was Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm”). That’s something we don’t see all that often, since most flicks focus on extraordinary events occurring to extraordinary people.

The film is built around 10 year old Eve Batiste, a cute black girl who lives with her family deep in the Louisiana bayou, in the 60s. She has a brother who’s 9, Poe, and an older sister, Cisely, on the verge of womanhood. Then there’s her parents, Roz and Louis Batiste, who aren’t exactly the happiest couple. Louis might be a charming and successful small-town doctor, but he’s also one helluvah skirt-chaser. When Eve sees him getting it on with a female friend of the family, she gets confused about the trust she has for her beloved daddy. She’s just a kid, and she has a hard time handling the problems that hit her family. She tries to solve things up by reaching to her aunt Mozelle, a woman who practices voodoo and has visions.

This might sound quite unexciting a story, but hey, this ain’t a thriller. The film is more about character development and the portrayal of a place and time. The bayou is a warm, unusual place where people are close, yet things can go wrong. And then there’s all that black magic that brings a surreal yet well at home feel to the film. The film was written and directed by Kasi Lemmons, who sure has plenty of talent in both fields. Her script is smart and involving. The characters are believable and endearing, and the story is well crafted. Lemmons handles well feelings and motivations as a director, and she gets great performances from her actors. Jurnee Smollett is unbelievably good as the young Eve, and Samuel L. Jackson delivers once again a perfectly nuanced performance as the cheating husband.

The film is also visually stunning. The film communicates very well the feel of the bayou. Lemmons also has a way of crafting some really powerful scenes. The film is always good in its ensemble, but some parts stand out. I love all these memories and visions, and there’s one scene in particular this is absolutely brilliantly crafted: it’s the one in which Mozelle remembers her late husband while looking at a mirror. I won’t give any more away, but trust me, it’s an amazing scene. Through the film, the visuals are also enhanced by the wonderful score, which echoes jazz and cajun music. In the end, this might not be the year’s best film, but it’s still a wonderful film.