Carmel Winters is a multi-award-winning playwright and has delivered a wondrous glimpse into an area of life rarely explored in cinema in new feature Float Like a Butterfly. The world of travellers in rural Ireland during the 1970s, and the persecutions faced by them both through law enforcement and deviation from younger generations makes fascinating watching. Driven by captivating lead performances and cinematography, the film gives a convincing account of an unconventional lifestyle with compassion and joy.
A recurrent image though Winters’ film is the small travelling community that Float like a Butterfly follows gathered around a campfire singing folk songs that have survived for generations. It is a recurrent symbol for the engrained nature of these travellers, they have raised and grown up around each other all with their unique relationships and understandings of the world. It seems almost idyllic, with our black sheep protagonist Frances (Hazel Doupe) being treated with respect by the older members. This all changes once her father Michael (Dara Devaney), who was arrested after reacting to the violent killing of his wife and unborn child by the county’s malicious police sergeant. He’s aware of how much of his childrens lives he’s missed, but not of who they are as people. His pursuit to toughen up sensitive son Patrick (Johnny Collins) and tear Frances from the boxing fascination he created is both frustratingly cruel and bizarrely empathetic as the complexities of a broken family is explored by Winters’ concise and enjoyable story.
When it issues a challenge of familial norms and patriarchal systems that have been in place for preceding generations, it isn’t in a swift upheaval, but a prolonged struggle that wears our protagonists down mentally and physically. These moments are emboldened by a tense atmosphere that is created by the memory of an early depiction of unwavering violence that hangs heavy. This brutality is counteracted by the beautiful shots of rural Ireland that illustrate the family’s connection to the land they grew up in. Glens and coastal towns punctuated by camps of travellers who live in exuberant shanty towns, allow for a very varied depiction of life each community deriving their image through years of life on the road.
The film prides itself on its low budget nature, achieving a hard-hitting drama told in realist sensibilities. The leads are relatively unknown but give emotionally engaging and mature depictions of adolescents caught in the fear of losing their father again and remaining true to who they are. Never victimised within the script, they aren’t to be pitied but rather rooted for. However, this message is delivered far too explicitly in the finale of the film, a boxing match reminiscent of Rocky against the sergeant’s despicable son. It’s supposed to draw off Frances’ obsession with Muhammed Ali by having her take part in her own grand title bout, but sadly its far too heavy handed and definitively climactic to suit the tone of the film.
Float Like a Butterfly is a coming of age film that’s sure to surprise people well versed within the genre. Winters has delivered an emotive tale dealing with complex issues, and simultaneously explored a culture rarely seen in cinema. It will be interesting to see exactly what she follows this with, but there’s definitely reason to be excited whatever it turns out to be.