Kinoteka Polish Film Festival: Butterfly Kisses Review
London, the present day. Jake (Theo Stevenson), Jarred (Byron Lyons) and Kyle (Liam Whiting) live on a housing estate. Outside of school, their lives involve watching online porn, smoking weed, and hanging out at the local snooker hall run by Shrek (Thomas Turgoose). Jake makes a little money by babysitting a neighbour's young daughter. Jarred and Kyle constantly rib the relatively shy Jake for not having lost his “V-plates” yet, but one day he meets Zara (Rosie Day), who is new to the area…
Butterfly Kisses, a debut feature written by Greer Taylor Ellison and directed by Rafael Kapeliński, hinges on a revelation late in the film which sits right on the line between appropriately dark and disturbing and what will be unpalatable for some viewers. There's a big hint early on. Up until then, there's a lot that's impressive. The film certainly has its precedents in other estate-set dramas. The obvious comparison is Shane Meadows's Somers Town, not just for the use of black and white and the presence of Thomas Turgoose in the cast, but also for the fact that one of the lead characters is of Polish extraction. (Jake lives with his mother, played by Małgorzata Ścisłowicz, and in a couple of scenes they speak in Polish together.) Unlike the geographically-specifically-titled Somers Town, it's not specified exactly where the estate in Butterfly Kisses is, though one scene takes place near Tooting Bec underground station
Ellison's script and Kapeliński's direction carefully work in repeated motifs – horses, especially. Some of the dialogue is very funny in its foul-mouthed way. Kapeliński's direction and Nick Cooke's cinematography give the film an increasingly disquieting atmosphere and also an understated visual elegance. Most contemporary black-and-white films are shot in colour (either on film or digitally, so that a colour version can be produced if wished for) and converted to black and white in post-production, but Butterfly Kisses was shot on a Red digital camera with a monochrome sensor, of which there were only two in the UK at the time the film was made.
Many of the cast have track records on television rather than in cinema. Theo Stevenson had a small role in In Bruges and played the title role in Horrid Henry, but is best known more recently for the Channel 4 series Humans. Rosie Day has an even longer career, with her first acting credit at the age of four. By contrast, Byron Lyons and Liam Whiting had not acted on screen before.
The film is a little too understated for its own good, and the film's premise, as we find out, is a distinct stumbling block. However it is well-acted and fluently made, and clearly a showcase for genuine talent on either side of the camera.
Butterfly Kisses shows on 13 March at 8.30pm at the ICA, London, as part of the 16th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival, and is followed by a Q & A with Rafael Kapeliński.