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September 14th 2017

REVIEW: The Butterfly Tree: full of arthouse nectar


The Butterfly Tree fully realises the power of arthouse cinema. The magic that permeates the film is seen through gorgeous imagery, in the creative use of colour and costumes.

This is a film that embraces its ability to tell a narrative that is thematically complex through creative use of visuals and excellent use of Queensland’s natural foliage.

The plot, in a similar style to A Streetcar Named Desire, focuses on three characters and the way each touches the other: Evelyn (Melissa George), a burlesque dancer-cum-florist, a troubled teen named Fin (Ed Oxenbould), and his womanising father, Al (Ewen Leslie).

Evelyn – an object of desire for both the boy and his father – is vulnerable, playful, sexual, yet damaged, evoking a Blanche Dubois archetype. A woman who is preyed upon by the two males, Evelyn is the heart of the film and the source of all colour, her burlesque costume a representation of fleeting beauty.

Fin views her as a maternal figure but, because of her undeniable sexuality, she becomes an object of desire too, blurring the lines in their relationship. Their chemistry is what creates the film’s spark and magical realism.

Her attractiveness only complicates matters when Al enters the frame, with both father and son seeking to fill the holes in their hearts with Evelyn’s magic after Al’s wife dies.

Priscilla Cameron’s direction of her own screenplay and script is conventional but smart. She allows the camera to linger on the striking visuals without overstaying their welcome. She knows when to cut and when to let the camera simply pan and freeze.
Fin (Ed Oxenbould) and Evelyn (Melissa George) talk outside Evelyn’s greenhouse home. The multitude of themes tackled in the film are particularly notable, with several revolving around love and the loneliness that can come with it. Butterflies and flowers are recurring motifs, acting as an exploration of beauty and its power over imagination and emotions.

For those eagle-eyed, there is a certain lack of modernity that is present throughout the film. Clothes, transportation, even how a young boy spends his time, harken back to a time without technology. This is crucial in developing the characters and how they react and interact with each other.

The Butterfly Tree resides clearly within the arthouse genre and falls prey to some of its common pitfalls. The pacing is uneven and at times the dream-like sequences come off as a little heavy-handed. However, George’s performance is compelling and Oxenbould brilliantly captures the confused sensations of a young man in his situation.

The Butterfly Tree is an intriguing love story that tackles the notion of love in many different ways, and has the visual story-telling to do so effectively. Magical, surrealist and old-fashioned, this is a film that transports you into a nature-driven world.