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Home Reviews Cinema reviews Review: Black Butterflies
Review: Black Butterflies Print E-mail
Written by Selina Pearson   
Sunday, 18 September 2011 20:38
Director: Paula van der Oest
Cast: Carice van Houten, Liam Cunningham, Rutger Hauer
Certificate: 15

"The child is not dead / The child lifts his fists against his mother / Who shouts Afrika! shouts the breath / Of freedom and the veld / In the locations of the cordoned heart."

These are the words of Afrikaans poet Ingrid Jonker, a passionate and political poet writing during apartheid-era South Africa. Black Butterflies is a German-Dutch-South African film based on her life.

On the death of their mother, the young Ingrid and her sister Anna are brought to live with their estranged father (Hauer). The girls are moved into his servants’ quarters; not a helpful way in which to build a healthy paternal relationship. As Ingrid (van Houten) grows up, she rebels against her oppressive and controlling father, his role in the censorship of political writings in the parliamentary select committee, and against the brutal politics of 1960s South Africa. While messily ending her own marriage, she encounters writer Jack Cope (Cunningham) with whom she begins an affair.

Ingrid's relentless struggles against her pro-establishment father fuel her own desperate fears of rejection. And while being a critically acclaimed writer, all her human relationships fall apart; she is selfish, self-obsessed and promiscuous. A string of affairs and her dependence on alcohol permanently damage all her relationships. Then she complains that she is alone. This self-destructive nature makes Ingrid an entirely unsympathetic protagonist - something that will always be problematic in depicting the life of a real person.

While the performances and direction of Black Butterflies are good, the film is so hopelessly mired in Ingrid Jonker’s mental health that it only succeeds in being a tragic tale of self-destruction. There are high points – she achieves recognition – but the enjoyment level remains low.


Good film-making and an iconic heroine mired in its own self-pity.



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