The Butterfly Tree

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Butterfly Tree
"Although the storyline here doesn't offer much that's new, the character work and visual design enable this modest little film to punch above its weight."

In the heady rush of early adolescence, emotions often dominate reason, colouring everything we see. A similar experience can occur at other times in life if what one has to deal with is so overwhelming that one begins to live by instinct. Priscilla Cameron captures this experience brilliantly in her d├ębut film, which, with its surfeit of dazzling imagery, invites the viewer to connect with it in the same way.

Fin (Ed Oxenbould) has recently lost his mum to illness. He's getting on with life, going to school, and on the surface seems to have adjusted well, but underneath a complex set of emotions are surging. His Dad, Al (Ewen Leslie) is very much aware of his own grief but tries to hold it at bay so he can be a good dad, something that can be challenging enough with a kid that age anyway. It doesn't help that he teaches at Fin's school, where he has attracted the sexual attention of an older girl. Father and son find their fragile equilibrium further disturbed by the arrival in their neighbourhood of florist and former burlesque dancer Evelyn (Melissa George) with whom they both fall in love.

Copy picture

George is radiant as the object of fascination at the centre of the film, aided by fantastic costuming, art direction and cinematography, yet for all that we see Evelyn through the eyes of the male protagonists, we catch enough glimpses to observe that she's dealing with difficult issues of her own. Nobody here is as straightforward as they seem but for the most part they're too absorbed in their own problems to recognise this about the others. It's a credit to the actors that, despite this, nobody come across as unsympathetic, and Cameron skilfully balances the drama so that no one character comes to dominate.

Although the storyline here doesn't offer much that's new, the character work and visual design enable this modest little film to punch above its weight. It explores bereavement without getting maudlin and familial love without getting twee. Oxenbould is excellent at evincing the sense of wonder that first love can bring as much because of its novelty as because of the beloved, and Leslie brings a tenderness to his performance that lets us see the man behind the dad and teacher, without excusing the problematic behaviour through which he tries to cope.

Told in non-linear fashion, the narrative unravels like the tangle of emotions each character is dealing with, gradually assuming coherent form as young Fin begins to make sense of the world. It's over-egged in places and one sometimes gets the sense that it's using prettiness as padding, but there's enough of both style and substance here to make it an absorbing and ultimately uplifting viewing experience.

Reviewed on: 07 Jul 2018
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The Butterfly Tree packshot
A man and his son compete for the affections of the same woman.

Festivals:

EIFF 2018

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