Butterfly Kisses, 2017.
Directed by Rafael Kapelinski.
Starring Rosie Day, Elliot Cowan, Charlotte Beaumont, Thomas Turgoose, and Theo Stevenson.
We follow Jake and his two best friends, Kyle and Jarred through a world distorted by sex and porn. The leader is Kyle – he talks about girls’ non-stop, Jarred can’t stop cheating on his girlfriend and then there’s Jake, a quiet and shy teenager whose friends are determined to help him lose his virginity to Zara, the pretty girl on the 19th floor of their estate. All three are trying to find their way in a complex world. They all have their demons, but Jake’s secret is one that he must keep to himself.
Rafael Kapelinski’s debut feature film, Butterfly Kisses, is one of tremendous subtlety. The way in which Kapelinski builds on the stereotype of teenagers having little to nothing to do, coupled with a monochrome black and white aesthetic, creates an almost documentary style that seems both relatable and realistic. Bustling with recognisable names and faces, Butterfly Kisses displays the strength of the UK’s finest young talent, testing their limits and abilities with a tension wound narrative, reliant on detail and pacing. Featuring cast members from, Humans, This is England and Outlander, Butterfly Kisses from the get-go establishes its sincerity and determination. The opening sequence sets the tone of the film right away, producing a despondent feeling which becomes more and more sinister as the film progresses.
Kapelinski’s film follows the antics of Kyle, Jarred and Jake as they roam around tower blocks, side streets and stairways looking to escape their drowning boredom. Their adolescence is explored honestly, as we witness how each character understands and explores friendship, sex, love and pornography. What I mean when I speak of Kapelinski’s honest approach to adolescence is how deeply he looks into the concerns of kids growing up and how they discover themselves and their proclivities. With an unflinching authenticity, Greer Ellison has written a screenplay that possesses genuine questions that our society is too frightened to address on a community level. The personal level of insight we’re granted makes Jake’s revelation all the more potent because we see him as his friends see him.
It has to be said that Kapelinski’s film is not for those without patience. The film slowly unravels its narrative, building on those silent moments while alluding to the central tension by deliberately placing pockets of pressure designed to temporarily satisfy the viewer until we once more move towards Jake’s yet undisclosed secret. Similarly, the film alludes to its location in the first act, choosing instead to reveal the setting as the film progresses, in an effort to emphasise that these groups of characters might exist in any city.
Being the only film to be entirely shot using a monochrome black and white red dragon camera, Butterfly Kisses naturally takes on a unique look. This ultimately works to focus the viewer’s attention on the characters and the way the conduct themselves around one another, further emphasising the documentary approach Kapelinski alluded to. The contrast this aesthetic provides in certain scenes makes the film quite beautiful to watch. Shadows and dark hallways create a perverse feeling of not knowing. In some scenes, this affect works to produce an unsettling melancholy, which is again reinforced by the looming tower block shots and the brutalist architecture, making the overall experience of viewing this film disquieting.
Kapelinski’s film relies on a thoughtful acting approach that depends on the cast’s ability to act through their micro expressions to convey subtle detail. Something that every actor appears to accomplish thoughtfully. It’s no mistake that the film’s cinematography focuses on the eye line of each character for every close-up, forcing the viewer to look for the smallest change of expression in and amongst the silence and tension.
What Kapelinski’s film accomplishes so wonderfully, is that unsettling feeling that something lies just beneath the surface of what we’re seeing. What might be a joke could be something more darkly serious. What seems innocent becomes distorted again and again until you begin seeing Jake’s obsessions manifest honestly. Perhaps the most defining fault that lies in Butterfly Kisses is the lack of lucidity it asserts. You don’t really understand what you’re watching until the final act of the film unfolds, even then, the moment the entire film leads up to is all but underwhelming. It ultimately lacks a strong definition. This is best seen in the humour of Butterfly Kisses where it at times appears as absurdly funny and at other times just off the mark. Similarly, the soundtrack doesn’t fit the film overall. It instead purely works on a scene to scene basis, with no consistent thematic presence. This unfortunately makes the film seem slightly disconnected; however, it is still barely noticeable.
There exists little to nothing negative to say about Butterfly Kisses, baring in mind the film comes from a debut director. Kapelinski’s film is ultimately unforgettable, both in the way in which the narrative unravels and the performances from the main cast. It carefully inspects a dark perversion on a personal level, begging the question of how we deal with our own development and that of those around us. Butterfly Kisses is a well thought-out and thorough film that marks the emergence of a director that is beset to achieve greatness.
Butterfly Kisses will be screening at the East End Film Festival in June.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★