Review – Psychedelic drama ‘The Butterfly Tree’ embraces oddball magical realism

Poster for 2018 drama The Butterfly Tree

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 13th July 2018
Runtime: 96 minutes
Director: Priscilla Cameron
Writer: Priscilla Cameron
Starring: Melissa George, Ed Oxenbould, Ewen Leslie, Sophie Lowe
Synopsis: A butterfly-loving kid and his lonely widower father clash when they both develop an intense obsession for the same woman – the quirky owner of a flower shop.

 

 

The opening credits of Australian drama The Butterfly Tree are set to the spectacle of a vibrant, colourful burlesque performance, complete with sparkly lingerie and nipple tassels. It then cuts directly to a young boy surrounded by butterflies, in a weird transition that serves as a clear statement of intent for writer-director Priscilla Cameron‘s debut feature. What follows is a defiantly idiosyncratic tale that examines the ramifications of familial loss, as well as the turbulent complexity of relationships.

This turbulence orbits the character of Evelyn (Melissa George) – a roller skating former burlesque performer who runs a flower shop. Selling some of her belongings outside her home, she bumps into widower Al (Ewen Leslie) and they arrange to go on a date, with Evelyn blissfully unaware that he is a teacher, sleeping with one of his students (Sophie Lowe). Meanwhile, the butterfly-loving youngster from the opening (Ed Oxenbould) spots Evelyn in her window and immediately becomes infatuated with her. He takes on an apprentice role, helping in her shop, and their relationship becomes deeper.

The Butterfly Tree deals in unusual relationships. This is most notable in the case of the strange connection between George and Oxenbould’s teenage character – Fin. For him, the beautiful Evelyn is a symbol both of the mother he has recently lost and of the sexual awakening he is currently experiencing. Oxenbould does a terrific job of embodying that duality, conveying his character’s constant inner conflict and uncertainty. His actions are driven entirely by emotions he has yet to fully grasp and understand, amplified by sexual confusion and the intermingling feelings of grief.

George, too, does immensely impressive work in order to avoid the status of cipher that her role could have become. Late in the day plot revelations allow her to stretch her wings in a more poignant way than the literal stretching of wings that plays into her butterfly-inspired burlesque attire. Romper Stomper star Sophie Lowe, too, makes the most of a part that’s only ever a whisker away from the teen minx stereotype.

Cameron allows her film to exist on two planes, with grounded drama playing a key part, but always assisted by flashes of magical realism and fantasy sequences. These are communicated through vivid, almost abrasive explosions of primary colours, in stark contrast to the rather mundane reality of these characters’ homes. There’s never much of a pay-off to these moments – other than the bizarre spectacle of a post-credits dance sequence – and it feels as if there was some untapped potential with this element of the story, but it adds yet another oddball texture to an already odd world.

There’s something of a first feature feel to The Butterfly Club, which has rough edges alongside its slick fantasy visuals. However, Priscilla Cameron’s story comes alive with real emotional vibrancy when it tackles its characters on a human level. This is a strange movie that will alienate those looking for a simple drama – not everyone will love a movie in which beetles crawl on Ed Oxenbould’s nipples – but it has real invention, real ambition and a desire to express very genuine feelings about love and loss.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

There’s not much that’s conventional about The Butterfly Tree, which deals in risky relationships, the world of burlesque and bizarre magical realism. However, through the lens of some terrific central performances – including a career highlight for youngster Ed Oxenbould – debut director Priscilla Cameron constructs a sure-footed tale that knows exactly what it wants to say.

 

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