The past few years there's been much talk about the overwhelming lack of female film directors, with a lot of misdirectied effort simply demanding to up the numbers. Since film lives on that uncomfortable edge between commerce and art, having more women do what men have been doing for ages isn't going to solve much, because there's just no added commercial and/or artistic value there. It makes hiring a female director an unnecessary risk in a business that deals with millions of dollars to produce one single product. That is exactly why a film like The Butterfly Tree deserves some extra attention. Here we have a film, directed by a woman, with a palpable female touch, about male issues and with a proper, well-executed artistic vision. In that sense, director Priscilla Cameron follows into the footsteps of women like Coralie Fargeat, Lisa Takeba and Lucile Hadzihalilovic. All authors that managed to add something unique and worthwhile to the world of film.
The Butterfly Tree is a grim and dark drama, at least on paper. The films deals with some pretty tough subjects, while the core of the film revolves around the troubled relationship between a boy (Fin) and his father (Al), both dealing with the loss of their wife/mother. Her death came sudden and left the two struggling to move forward. While they both find rather unheatlhy ways to cope with the situation, it uproots their lives and their inability to communicate with each other drives them further apart. If you feel this all sounds too heavy and depressing though, think again.
While the subject matter is quite grave and serious, the presentation is anything but. Cameron counters all the hardship with plenty of romantic imagery, at times crossing over into the realm of the fantastic. The redeeming plot point comes in the form of Evelyn, a retired burlesque performer who opens up a garden shop in Al and Fin's town. The two men are easily won over by Evelyn's charm, but are unaware of each other's interest in the woman. And even though Evelyn appears to be an otherworldly, ever-smiling butterfly godess, she has her own set of problems to deal with.
Cameron put a lot of time and effort into the styling of the film. The retro-inspired world of Evelyn is brought to life with sprawling colors, lush sets, beautiful camera work and some charming bits of animation. It's in these moments that the film also takes on a small, fantastical vibe, turning little interactions into larger than life experiences. It helps to take the edge off the harshness of the drama and it adds tons of charm to Cameron's first. While it would be unfair to make a direct comparison to Jeunet/Caro, there are definitely parallels to be found and it should give you some kind of idea of what to expect.
The Butterfly Tree could've been a slow and cumbersome drama, instead it turned out to be an energetic and marvelous film that deals with some tough themes in a very warm and humane way. The only problem is that Cameron needed 10 years to finish this project, hopefully she perseveres as a director and we won't have to wait another 10 years to see her next project. A good set of actors, lush visuals, an original setting and some standout scenes make this a film to cherish, so make an effort and seek this one out. It's not for everyone, but it's unique enough to deserve a fair chance.