The Butterfly Tree Review
Burlesque dancing, lepidopterology and low budget Baz.
The directorial debut of Australian filmmaker Priscilla Cameron is a glittery, dream-like affair which unfortunately shows just how much worse a Baz Luhrmann film could be with no budget.Cameron looks like she's trying her utmost to bring the real-world fantasy to life - replete with CG insects helping characters to float - and has her commendably committed cast play the kooky and desperately slight narrative out deadly straight, but she can only do so much with almost nothing to play with.
The story introduces us to widowed father Al (Ewan Leslie - Top of the Lake, Peter Rabbit) and his young son Fin (Ed Oxenburgh - The Visit), who are both still struggling with the loss of a wife and mother, respectively, and find themselves - initially independently - drawn to alluring burlesque dancer Evelyn (Melissa George - Mulholland Drive, A Lonely Place to Die, Triangle). After they discover that they are both under the spell of the same woman, things get unsurprisingly complicated.
It's a very slight tale.
It's always a dangerous prospect attempting to tell a fantasy-twinged drama with a limited budget and access to effects, as, if they more whimsical elements weren't already likely to pull your right out of the experience, then the cheap effects certainly will.
Even beyond that, it's a very slight tale, with its trio of core characters supposedly placed within the real world but often coming across as mere one-dimensional snapshots, something which inadvertently turns each into, respectively, voyeur, stalker and succubus.
There are some more interesting ideas at play here, with the young boy embroiled in an Oedipal struggle as he finds himself sexually drawn to a woman who he really needs to be the mother figure he is so missing. Meanwhile the good-meaning dad is struggling to reconcile moving on, with the attraction he feels for the highly sexual Evelyn.
Both need to manage the guilt they feel her even looking at another woman after the death of love in their lives, and must come to terms with the issues and fallout surrounding that loss - something they've both been avoiding at every turn, with the dad buried in the mundane, whilst the son explores flights of fantasy in his obsession with butterflies.
Cameron doesn't have the same handle on visual and musical majesty as her fellow filmmaker.
The trouble is that The Butterfly Tree isn't content with this simple narrative - unsurprisingly given how slight it is - and seeks to embellish it with a more fantastical bent which, at least visually, wouldn't look out of place in a Baz Luhrmann feature. Only there's no budget to do a Luhrmann and, to be honest, debut director Cameron doesn't have the same handle on visual and musical majesty as her fellow antipodean filmmaker, which is quite understandable given it's her first effort, but no less frustrating that she tries and fails so monumentally.
Receiving a number of nominations at the Australian Awards, perhaps there's something here that's loss in translation across the oceans, but it's certainly not evident on a first viewing, and the talented cast and potentially talented director deserve - and should be capable of - better.
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