Butterfly Kisses review: Rafael Kapelinski‘s debut is a startling and confronting look into one teenager’s deviant desires.
Butterfly Kisses review by Kat Hughes at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.
Jake (Theo Stevenson, Humans) is a teenager with a disturbing secret. By day he hangs around with his two best friends (newcomers Byron Lyons and Liam Whiting) at the local snooker hall, by night he helps babysit his neighbour’s kids. All the time that spends babysitting however, he is battling his inner demons, demons that he can never share for fear of persecution.
Shot entirely in black and white, Butterfly Kisses is a dark drama that places the audience with awkward teen Jake for the duration. Jake doesn’t quite fit in with his two best friends Jared and Kyle. Whereas the other two boys are all swagger and noise, Jake is more reserved and sensitive. The reason for this is that Jake is struggling with his sexuality and he knows that his peers will never understand.
Jake’s secret shame, and he does appear ashamed, is that he is attracted to little girls. That’s right, this is a film about a teenage paedophile. We’re not going to lie, it’s a tough watch. Placing the viewer with Jake is uncomfortable as we’re encouraged to feel for his plight. Jake does at least understand that his feelings aren’t normal and he seeks to quash his illness by forming a bond with Zara (Rosie Day), the older sister of one his crushes.
A startling feature debut from Rafael Kapelinski, Butterfly Kisses could be viewed in many ways as modern day British version of Larry Clark’s Kids. As with Kids, the parents within this film are unaware of what is going on with their children as they skip school, drink and take recreational drugs. The closest the teenager’s have to a functional parental unit is the owner of the local snooker hall, Shrek, played by This is England‘s Thomas Turgoose.
Many of the young cast were plucked out of open castings at London secondary schools. Unlike a lot of American teen movies, which tend to have twenty – thirty year old adults playing teenagers, the use of actual school children makes everything more realistic. The inexperience of several of the cast also helps to draw the viewer in, you almost feel like you’re watching a documentary. This feeling is heightened by the monochromatic visuals.
Theo Stevenson shows that he is a star in the making. His portrayal of Jake is delicately handled, and showcases a wiser head than his young years. A film shot in black in white, Stevenson offers a performance full of shades of grey.
Butterfly Kisses is a film that will encourage discussion. A tough, but arguably a very important watch. A stand-out debut from Kapelinski, we look forwards to what he creates next.
Butterfly Kisses review by Kat Hughes, February 2017.
Butterfly Kisses plays at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.