The sublimely uncanny, haunting Giving Birth To A Butterfly follows the newly engaged Marlene (Gus Birney, I’m Thinking of Ending Things) and Drew (Owen Campbell, The Miseducation of Cameron Post) as Drew moves Marlene into his parents’ home, much to the disquiet of his mum Diana (Annie Parisse, Law & Order, National Treasure). It looks like we’re all set for a family face-off, when the film takes a sudden turn. Diana’s identity is stolen and her bank account cleaned out in an apparent internet scam. Because Marlene’s car is the only one available, she and Diana head off on an increasingly surreal road trip to confront the perpetrators.
The debut feature of Theodore Schaefer, Giving Birth To A Butterfly features dreamy rounded-corner Academy Ratio photography on 16mm, underscoring the film’s hazy, dislocated, off-kilter charm. Gradually unpicking its own sense of reality and character, the film superficially narrows its focus while opening up its thematic scope, sinking deeper into our collective unconsciousness, and asking what it truly means to be happy – or indeed to “be” at all.
Indeed, Giving Birth To A Butterfly feels like the intersection of a stock Sundance road-trip indie flick, Punch-Drunk Love era Paul Thomas Anderson, and David Lynch. It’s almost a classic “characters on a journey learn to understand each other” story, but gradually made weird by discombobulating camera choices and quietly alienating background and out-of-frame action. And that’s before we meet a couple of kindly senile angels from outside of time and space, heralded by the distant horn of a freight train in the night.
This movie also features the best incidental cat since Hong Sang-soo’s The Woman Who Ran.
I recommend giving Giving Birth To A Butterfly a watch, and even more so I’m looking forward to what the director does next.
Giving Birth To A Butterfly played at the Fantasia Film Festival, and is currently on the festival circuit generally.