The Butterfly Tree

 

star

 


An Australian film that never finds an apt tone or tones.

   
Butterfly Tree

Ed Oxenbould and Melissa George

 

Tonal clashes are by no means rare in films but the mishmash of styles to be found in The Butterfly Tree, a film set in Queensland, is exceptional. Priscilla Cameron's first feature - she is both writer and director - is the story of a widowed father, Al (Ewen Leslie), and his son, Fin (Ed Oxenbould) a young teenager, both still in grief after three years. That would suggest a drama and perhaps a sombre one, but the film, drenched in strikingly colourful images by photographer Jason Hargreaves, begins with a burlesque striptease featuring Evelyn (Melissa George). Dad, a teacher, has a roving eye and is having it off with one of his students, Shelley (Sophie Lowe) but nevertheless is drawn to Evelyn when, adopting a new lifestyle, she arrives in town and opens a flower shop. But, as it happens, young Fin, despite being a lepidopterist and making that central to his concerns, gets the hots for Evelyn too.

 

Much of this is presented as comedy, often with a highly stylised element in the visuals. But, while Fin is seen as a 13-year-old reaching puberty, the film's emphasis on the sexual seems largely imposed from the outside, a fact in line with the choice of opening material but equally present in the portrayal of Shelley. It must be said though that, even in a film which relishes over-the-top images, the relationship between Evelyn and the young Fin supposedly involving a real bonding needs to convince. But it never does so on any level at all. One might argue that this fanciful work is not seeking to be a believable narrative, but then it turns out that Evelyn has a secret which banishes the film's light tone. Furthermore, at about the same time, there is an unexpected revelation about the death of Fin's mother Rose, and a note that she had written to Al is seemingly made known to Fin for the first time: this seems absurd, especially since it might have eased the tensions that have grown up between father and son.

 

The cast is not an untalented one, but the film's inability either to set a tone or to move effectively from one tone to another means that it is quite impossible to believe in any of the characters. The fantastical elements that characterise the film's first half are utterly at odds with the drama that plays out thereafter: the only consistent aspect that can be found throughout is that everything seems unreal.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Melissa George, Ewen Leslie, Ed Oxenbould, Sophie Lowe, Ella Jaz Macrokanis, Lauren Dillon, Paula Nazarski, Steve Nation, Sam Cotton.

 

Dir Priscilla Cameron, Pro Bridget Callow-Wright, Simon Callow-Wright and Peter Drinkwater, Screenplay Priscilla Cameron, Ph Jason Hargreaves, Pro Des Charlie Shelley, Ed Rodrigo Balart, Music Caitlin Yeo, Costumes Chrissy Flannery.

  
Midwinter Films/Screen Queensland/Film Victoria-Eureka Entertainment.
97 mins. Australia. 2017. Rel: 13 July 2018. Cert. 15.