The Butterfly Tree (2018) **

July 6th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir:Priscilla Cameron; Cast: Melissa George, Ed Oxenbould, Ewen Leslie; Sophie Lowe; Australia 2017, 97 min.

Priscilla Cameron’s debut feature looks terrific, but the Australian filmmaker cannot restrain her self-indulgence in a drama that flails madly between cheap melodrama to symbolic overdrive – and to make matters worse, shares t the worst aspects of the male view when it comes to the description of the female body.

In Queensland, college lecturer Alan (Leslie) has recently lost his artist wife and is drowning his sorrows in  bed with his creative writing student (Lowe), while his jealous son Fin (Oxenbould), looks on, somehow blaming his father for his mother’s death. Fin is a loner who collects butterflies, and it’s through this hobby that father Alan comes into contact with the enchanting but ditzy ex-chanteuse Evelyn (George) who enjoys roller-skating in flowery dresses, designed by Chrissy Flannery.

But the father/son relationship between Fin and Alan rapidly deteriorates, Oedipus meeting teenage lust, when the boy discovers a roll of film showing Evelyn in all her naked glory. Evelyn’s backstory is never alluded to, apart from a brief appearance of an ex-husband. And needless to say, Cameron script never reaches a satisfactory conclusion, the ending is tame and so very Hollywood – for which Butterfly Tree is meant to be a calling card.

Apart from Flannery who gives it his best, Cameron has to thank DoP Jason Hargreaves and PD Charlie Shelley to ensure that her debut is not a total write-off. Hargreaves conjures up ravishing dreamlike images, mostly with overhead shots. Meanwhile Shelley constructs an ethereal reverie for Evelyn and Fin to inhabit, that relies a little too heavily on influences from Baz Luhrman. And she is unable to convincingly realise the traumatic death of Fin’s mother, it being just another number in the cabinet of obscurities. Butterfly Tree is partly based on her short Beetle Feeders; but it might be worth using a script-writer for her next outing: her obsession with obscure desires is not enough to tackle really traumatic experiences with a restraint they deserve. AS

The Butterfly Tree will be released in selected cinemas nationwide (UK & Ireland) from 13 July 2018.

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