Review: Float Like a Butterfly
by Kaleem Aftab
- TORONTO 2018: Irish director Carmel Winters delivers plenty of blows as she tackles toxic masculinity in a picturesque Ireland
The FIPRESCI Prize in the Discovery programme of the Toronto International Film Festival went to writer-director Carmel Winters’ piercing Irish drama Float Like a Butterfly [+see also:
film profile]. It’s easy to see why. From the producers of Once [+see also:
film profile] and Sing Street [+see also:
film profile] comes another film where song is as important as dialogue. Winters (whose debut feature, Snap, won Best Irish Feature at the Dublin Critics’ Circle Awards) has strung together a fabulous, organic mix of traditional Irish song, boxing and female emancipation. It’s a tale about sticking to your beliefs, even when the whole of society is against you, and who better to have as a talisman than Muhammad Ali, the pugilist who spent years in prison and had to give up his heavyweight crown for refusing to be conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War.
The title of the film is taken from the famous Ali quote “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” and while growing up, Frances (Hazel Doupe) has been watching Ali deliver his famous speeches and punches on the black-and-white television set that serves the Irish roadside community she is from. The fabulous camera work by Michael Lavelle and production design by Toma McCullim uses horses, tents, young children and open fires to great effect to bring life and a homely feel to the frame on a limited budget. That warmth is captured in the songs sung around the burning wood, and the fabulous and loving relationship between Frances and her doting father, Michael (Dara Devaney), who teaches her to box and to fend for herself.
But all good things must come to an end. When the police arrive, complaining that Michael has not been sending his daughter to school, it ends in tragedy, and the nature of the relationship between father and daughter is altered forever. Several years later, Michael returns from jail a bitter man, and Winters now takes the characters on a journey where finding Frances a husband is deemed the only way to calm her down. But it’s Michael, now a drunk, who is revealed to be the problem, as the writer-director uses his dependence on the bottle and his attitude towards his children as a treatise on the toxic nature of masculinity. Violence is everywhere, and the treatment of the Travellers by the rest of the world is equally abhorrent, as demonstrated when Frances goes to buy some milk and is chided. While the road trip that the family embarks on isn’t as gripping as the scenes set within the Traveller community, it’s a small gripe in a film that punches way above its weight.
Float Like a Butterfly is a Samson Films and Port Pictures presentation in association with the Irish Film Board and RTÉ, with the participation of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and WestEnd Films.
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