×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Butterflies’

Tolga Karaçelik's bittersweet Sundance prizewinner sets up a familiarly dysfunctional family reunion, only to make several surprising switches in tone.

Director:
Tolga Karaçelik
With:
Tolga Tekin, Bartu Küçükçağlayan, Tuğçe Altuğ

1 hour 57 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3796645/

Three estranged adult siblings reunite for a road trip after being mysteriously summoned to their home village by their long-absent father, confronting their shared, troubled past along the way — on the face of it, Turkish writer-director Tolga Karaçelik’s heartsore, ruefully funny third feature “Butterflies” sounds like the very template of a laughter-through-the-tears Sundance crowdpleaser. But there’s a stranger, slyer current to this playful exercise in tone-switching that keeps the journey surprising even as its overall destination becomes clear. Not every one of the film’s absurdist comic lunges lands, and at just shy of two hours, this particular shaggy dog wouldn’t be hurt by a slight trim. But when Karaçelik keeps the focus squarely on the honest, complicated emotions of his superbly played core trio of characters — and less on the quirkier goings-on fizzing around them — “Butterflies” morphs into something rather lovely.

A Grand Jury Prize win at Sundance should boost the distribution prospects of a film destined for a long and popular festival run following its bows in Park City and Rotterdam. A very different kettle of kalkan from the intense genre mechanics of Karaçelik’s previous, well-traveled feature “Ivy,” his latest should comfortably build on that film’s distinguished profile. Though “Butterflies” gains interest from its specific, raki-doused cultural trappings — particularly those relating to the Muslim faith and community — its essential drama of a family broken and tenuously mended is a wholly universal one. (It’s not at all difficult to imagine the dynamics and geography of a hypothetical U.S. remake.)

The film opens on something of an outlandish red herring, as fortysomething Cemal (Tolga Tekin), a Turkish astronaut long settled in Germany, addresses Angela Merkel in a live news report on the negligence of the German space program, before underlining his protest by setting fire to his spacesuit in the studio. The tone is thus set for a harsher, more manic comedy, which continues as we’re introduced to Cemal’s two younger siblings: Kenan (Bartu Küçükçağlayan), a down-on-his-luck actor reduced to doing banal voiceover work, and Suzan (Tuğçe Altuğ), a teacher in the crumbling stages of her marriage to a grotesquely self-absorbed businessman. Karaçelik paints their individual person crises in broad strokes; once the three are brought together, however, their characters grow more textured and credible.

Cemal, trying to play the part of sensible older brother while harboring his own reserves of guilt and irresponsibility, receives an unexpected phone call from his father, instructing him to gather Kenan and Suzan and bring them to the dusty, remote hamlet where they grew up. For reasons that become gradually and tragically apparent, none of them has seen Dad in 30 years; it’s less straightforwardly clear why the relationship between the three siblings has grown rusty and strained, but evidently these family wounds run deep. Kenan is initially reluctant to join his brother and sister on the road; Karaçelik’s script beautifully tracks the brittle tension and incremental thawing between them — abetted by a combination of vintage Turkish pop music and rowdy-making local liquor — in their first days together.

Yet as soon as a comfortable road-movie rhythm is set, the three arrive home far sooner than we expect, in a landscape that cinematographer Andaç Sahan practically parches in shades of wheat and rusk, ahead of an elusive symbolic promise of rain. With this turn, “Butterflies” enters yet another register, as the ongoing raw realism of the family’s private interactions are played against the more heightened, even farcical goings-on in the now far-from-familiar village of their childhood, where street chickens literally explode at random and the nearest thing to a voice of reason is a neurotic imam shaken by a crisis of faith. A poetic strain of folk mythology enters the busy mix too, involving the village’s reputation as a resting place for dying butterflies.

If these contrasting modes of storytelling aren’t entirely complementary, they do heighten the emotional authenticity of the siblings’ more immediate, more intimate struggles, as they return to roiling wells of familial trauma, or identify ones they never quite knew before. “It’s been hurting ever since I was born, so I never noticed,” observes Suzan, the baby of the family; “Butterflies” is most perceptive and gut-punching on the ways in which we hold on to childhood memories to the point that we no longer know if we imagined them or not. All three leads pitch their performances perfectly, outlining strong, disparate personalities that are nonetheless plainly shaped by the same cause of pain and self-reliance. It’s in the moments when they involuntarily let go of their difference — whether collectively losing their cool over a private joke, or drunkenly, lumpenly dancing together to a dusted-off favorite song — that “Butterflies” most movingly takes wing.

Sundance Film Review: 'Butterflies'

Reviewed online, London, Jan. 25, 2018. (In Sundance Film Festival — World Cinema Dramatic Competition; Rotterdam Film Festival — Voices) (Original title: "Kelebekler")

Production: (Turkey) A Karma Films, Karaçelik Film production. (International sales: Karma Films, Istanbul.) Producers: Tolga Karaçelik, Diloy Gülün, Metin Anter.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Tolga Karaçelik. Camera (color, widescreen): Andaç Sahan. Editor: Evren Lus. Music: Ahmet Kenan Bilgic.

With: Tolga Tekin, Bartu Küçükçağlayan, Tuğçe Altuğ, Serkan Keskin, Hakan Karsak, Ezgi Mola, Ercan Kesal. (Turkish, German dialogue)

More Film

  • SONDRA LOCKESONDRA LOCKE - 1986

    Oscar Nominee Sondra Locke Dies at 74

    Actress and director Sondra Locke, who received a supporting actress Oscar nomination in her first movie role for “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” died Nov. 3 at 74. The Los Angeles County Public Health Department confirmed her death. She died due to breast and bone cancer, according to Radar Online, which reported that she [...]

  • Clint Eastwood and Alison Eastwood'The Mule'

    Clint Eastwood: Why Alison Eastwood Came Out of Acting Retirement for Her Dad

    Clint Eastwood’s daughter Alison Eastwood was done with acting after appearing in 2014’s “Finding Harmony.” Or so she thought. More Reviews Film Review: 'Dead Women Walking' Film Review: 'Dumplin'' It was a Friday night and she and her husband were heading to dinner when her father’s producer Sam Moore called. “He [says], ‘You know, your [...]

  • 'Dead Women Walking' Review: Uncompromising, Powerful

    Film Review: 'Dead Women Walking'

    The sober and gripping “Dead Women Walking” focuses on the final days of a series of female inmates facing the death sentence. Divided into nine chapters, each inching its way inexorably closer to the moment of execution, the drama turns the fragmentation of its approach to a powerful advantage. Not only do the individual stories [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Sam Mendes' World War I Drama '1917' Set for Awards-Season Launch on Christmas 2019

    Universal Pictures has given an awards-season release date of Dec. 25, 2019, to Sam Mendes’ World War I drama “1971.” Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners is producing “1917” through its DreamWorks Pictures brand. “1917” will open in limited release on Christmas Day then go wide two weeks later on Jan. 10, 2020. More Reviews Film Review: [...]

  • Ventana Sur Queer Latin Film Panel

    Ventana Sur: Panel Talks Merits, Setbacks in Latin Queer Cinema

    BUENOS AIRES — Four venerable professionals from the cinema world joined on Monday evening for Queer Cinema In Latin America, a frank discussion on Latin America’s role within the queer filmscape for Ventana Sur’s Industry conference series held at the UCA campus in Buenos Aires. Touching on advancements in character arc and notable achievements in [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez 'Absolutely' Wants to Direct Film and Television

    Jennifer Lopez epitomizes the phrase “she’s done it all” — but there’s still more that the superstar would like to do. Lopez recently directed her first music video, “Limitless,” the track featured on her new rom-com “Second Act,” and it seems the multi-hyphenate has caught the directing bug. More Reviews Film Review: 'Dead Women Walking' [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content