#Crucial21DbW: Float Like a Butterfly directed by Carmel Winters

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Throughout Float Like a Butterfly Carmel Winters explores the learned attitudes surrounding gender. Using Michael (Dara Devaney) and his son Patrick’s (Johnny Collins) relationship as a microcosm, in one heart-wrenching scene Winters gets to the crux of everything wrong with toxic masculinity. Michael forces Patrick, a gentle young dreamer, to hit his older sister Frances, teaching him how to ‘be a man’. This is a recurring theme – how negative behaviours are taught and not inherently grounded in Patrick or Michael’s nature.

Carmel Winters is a name well known on the Irish theatrical and film scenes. Float like a Butterfly [2018] is a gorgeous, warm, coming-of-age film set in the rural landscape of ‘70s West Cork. Frances (Hazel Doupe), a teenage Traveller living with her grandparents, is an accomplished and fanatical boxer. Everything changes when her father, Michael, returns from prison. Having never gotten over the loss of Frances’ mother, Michael finds solace, as many widowers do, in the bottle. He takes Frances and her little brother, Patrick, on the road. There, Frances finds herself at odds with Michael and his expectations of her as she enters womanhood.

Float Like a Butterfly

The casting choices in this film are outstanding. The themes are wholly amplified by the performances of Float like a Butterfly’s young stars. Meanwhile Dara’s humanity and charisma lends understanding to Michael, a character who, on the page, could be unlikeable. What Winters does well across all her work is maintaining a strong knowledge of her main character’s internal processes. Their interactions are always ‘true’ and well-observed, while their own objectives and wants are so tangible, you’ll feel like you know them by the time the credits roll.

What hit closest to home for this writer was the breakdown in the father and daughter relationship, which was initiated by prescribed gender roles. This dynamic has been examined on screen before, but what’s unique in Winters’ retelling, is the empathy shown for both sides. As Frances’ journey progresses, so does her own understanding of her world – and how hard a place it can be for a Traveller woman. She’s bullied, promised off into marriage, assaulted, and propositioned, yet Frances is a warrior and maintains her strength and autonomy throughout.

Float Like a Butterfly premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Follow Float Like a Butterfly on Facebook and the film’s website.

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