Butterfly Kisses: A difficult theme wrapped in a dreamy atmosphere
by Andra Gheorghiu
- After winning the Crystal Bear at Berlin, Rafael Kapelinski’s feature debut had its Italian premiere at the Lucca Film Festival of European Cinema
Set on a south London housing estate, Rafael Kapelinski's first feature film, Butterfly Kisses [+see also:
interview: Rafael Kapelinski
film profile], is a black-and-white drama that initially hints at an English social-realist film about a regular bunch of teenagers who watch porn and talk about real or imaginary sexual experiences, but then takes a turn into much darker territory, and adopts a more poetic and atmospheric approach. It recently had its Italian premiere at the Lucca Film Festival of European Cinema.
Butterfly Kisses focuses on three friends, Jake (Theo Stevenson, best known from the TV show Humans), Kyle (Liam Whiting) and Jarred (Byron Lyons), who fritter their time away smoking weed, talking about girls and causing trouble in a local snooker club managed by Shrek (the unforgettable Thomas Turgoose from This Is England [+see also:
As the attention slowly turns to Jake, we realise that the story has a much darker layer to it. The shy virgin of the group, who makes money on the side by babysitting, is yielding to peer pressure from Kyle and Jarred about his sexual inactivity and seems to be slowly reaching breaking point. A possibly unnecessary hint at the beginning, plus his regular activity of spying on his neighbours (high-school girl Zara, played by Rosie Day, although he turns his attention more to her small sister), soon indicate what his true torment is, and while it has to do with his virginity, it is hardly a common occurrence when it comes to the struggles of sexual maturation.
One of the strongest aspects of the film is the actors’ performances. Stevenson brings a quiet power to Jake and creates an empathy that would be hard to achieve in a film on the same subject but with a more direct approach. It adds a crucial new layer to the film, while Whiting and Lyons really get a chance to impress in the final moment of revelation, the strongest scene of Butterfly Kisses. Turgoose’s presence does not go unnoticed, bringing moments of comic relief that humanise both the story and the characters.
With the help of cinematographer Nick Cooke (Pikadero [+see also:
interview: Ben Sharrock
film profile]), Kapelinski crafts an eclectic visual concept, managing to smoothly merge the British social housing-estate feel with experimental shots, poetic and cathartic moments, and a punk and rave music-video style. Butterfly Kisses has a very strong aesthetic and uses dream-like moments to masterfully generate empathy towards the struggle of this character that, from any other perspective, would be reprehensible.
Kapelinski manages to infuse his dark world with tension, synchronising his character’s moments of catharsis with those of the audience, through visual leitmotifs whose meanings shift throughout the film, such as a horse that is first seen in a porn movie and later reappears as a toy and a Halloween mask, and eventually turns into a possible saviour.
The superb soundtrack by Nathan W Klein, mostly consisting of organ music, props up the proceedings with a strong frame, simultaneously softening the harsh events that the characters experience. Butterfly Kisses is bookended by a voice-over by Kyle, showing the director’s intention to distance his standpoint from the dark theme that it tackles and to mould it into a story about the hardships of coming of age.
Kapelinski’s debut is a very fluid story told with outstanding clarity and masterfully employed aesthetics, bringing together some very different cinematic languages to make the film a success in poetic realism.
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