THE BUTTERFLY TREE

★★★★

A GORGEOUS SLICE OF AUSSIE CINEMA

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
12th August 2017

‘The Butterfly Tree’ has been almost a decade in the making.

Debut film director Priscilla Cameron, a part-time lecturer at Brisbane's Griffith Film School, had produced a number of short films. In 2010, Cameron’s unproduced script for her first feature-length film won an Australian Writers Guild award and funding from Screen Queensland. The Post Lounge, private investors, distributor Vendetta Films, Film Victoria and the Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund soon hopped aboard.

When 13-year-old Fin (Ed Oxenbould, ‘Paper Planes’), mourning the death of his mother, meets Evelyn (Melissa George, ‘30 Days of Night’, ‘Triangle’), the new owner of the local flower shop with a penchant for 1940s fashion and a zest for life, he is drawn into her exotic world of flora and insects.

Meanwhile his father, Al (Ewen Leslie, ‘Top of the Lake’, ‘The Daughter’), is grieving in his own way and sleeping with Shelley (Sophie Lowe, ‘Beautiful Kate’), a youthful, kooky student in his creative writing class. “We can play spider babies,” a lingerie-clad Shelley hilariously coos at Al, as he buries his face despairingly in his hands.

'THE BUTTERFLY TREE' TRAILER

As Fin’s feelings for Evelyn grow stronger, he has to distinguish his teenage desire from misplaced maternal love. Conflict arises when he realises Al has also fallen for Evelyn.

Priscilla Cameron has crafted an emotional, stylised and slightly fantastical story about three people’s relationship with love, loss and each other. In an interview with the ABC, Cameron cited European films as inspiration: “Films like ‘Amélie’ and ‘Pan's Labyrinth’ have definitely contributed to the style and feel and the world of the film and I wanted to make a film that was visually beautiful.”

Going above and beyond this directive, Jason Hargreaves’ cinematography is lush, with vivid dream sequences where Fin is carried away by a cloud of butterflies and buried under dead leaves. Painterly colour tones enhance this film’s nostalgic, hyper-real visual aesthetic. This vivid use of colour and lighting also function as projections of the characters’ bodily and mental states, augmenting the development and several nuances of the story itself. When Fin, during an emotionally fraught scene, takes shelter from a storm in the scrubland next to his house, the harsh red and blue lighting, menacing shadows and screeching soundtrack recall Dario Argento’s chaotic ‘Suspiria’. A critical moment involves a baby blue car being splashed with pink paint. Even small details, like Lowe’s red hair and Oxenbould’s blue eyes, pop out from the screen.

This vivid use of colour and lighting also function as projections of the characters’ bodily and mental states, augmenting the development and several nuances of the story itself.

‘The Butterfly Tree’ is a very pretty-looking (and sounding, via Cailtin Yeo) film, especially when you consider that this low-budget feature was shot entirely on location on Mount Tamborine in the Gold Coast hinterland on a budget of less than $3 million.

Not content to let Cameron and Hargreaves do all the heavy-lifting, the cast of actors bring their A-game. The versatile Melissa George should never be underrated, as she moves effortlessly between kindly, seductive, and vulnerable. She even does her own roller-skating. Ed Oxenbould embraces a role of complex emotional flux, Ewen Leslie is sympathetic as a rather immature bloke whose life is spiraling out of control and Sophie Lowe provides the bulk of the humour as the beautiful, but very odd Shelley.

This personal, lovingly-executed ensemble piece from first-time writer and director Priscilla Cameron is well-worth checking out.

Looking for more Melbourne International Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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