BUTTERFLY KISS (1995)

PrintE-mail Written by J. R. Southall

From Welcome to Sarajevo to A Cock and Bull Story via 24 Hour Party People and Code 46, seemingly the only thing that defines Michael Winterbottom’s directorial career has been the coolness of his camerawork and the distancing effect of his quiet documentary-style approach to capturing his characters on film. The subject and tone of his output has otherwise been wildly at variance, and part of the reason for this has been his seven-film association with Frank Cottrell Boyce, now a noted children’s author and with a divisively atypical Doctor Who episode to his credit. Cottrell Boyce was responsible for the scripts of all of the above-named films, and he and Winterbottom seem to have cultivated a relationship based on variety and enthusiasm for new subjects.

Butterfly Kiss was their second collaboration; arriving two years after Kalifornia and four on from Thelma and Louise, it takes elements of each and combines them to create a more sincere and less pretentious Natural Born Killers – a serial-killing road trip set in the North West of England. Amanda Plummer is Eunice, a damaged woman whose mind is broken in ways the film only hints at, seeking love in petrol stations around the Greater Manchester area and in the form of the mysterious ‘Judith’. Prone to bouts of intense, and deadly, anger, Eunice is also capable of justifying herself when necessary – often in the form of religious allusion.

Soon after the story begins, Eunice encounters the hard-of-hearing Miriam, played by Saskia Reeves as someone whose physical disability has allowed her mental capability to stifle undeveloped, and when Eunice invites herself back to Miriam’s flat and sees the controlled relationship she exists in with her (grand)mother, the two girls fall into an uncomfortable relationship and effectively run away.

The entire film is shown in flashback, interspersed with Miriam’s direct-to-camera confession, which deliberately avoids illuminating the characters’ actions but does give Butterfly Kiss the trajectory of an approaching tragedy; it is Eunice’s sermonising that goes furthest to explaining her state of mind, that and the chains she imprisons her body in, both for the obvious metaphorical reason but also as a way of keeping herself disengaged from the world. As a study of two characters it’s an intense and at times incomprehensible experience, lacking much in the way of personal warmth and in the main surprisingly avoiding the kind of graphic violence you might expect.

One thing that does connect much of Winterbottom’s work, reaching its apotheosis in 9 Songs, is his penchant for indie music, and the Butterfly Kiss soundtrack is dominated by the likes of The Cranberries. It’s a very British serial killer thriller, opaque and low-rent but also beautifully stark and haunting.

BUTTERFLY KISS (1995) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM / SCREENPLAY: FRANK COTTRELL BOYCE / STARRING: AMANDA PLUMMER, SASKIA REEVES, RICKY TOMLINSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW


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