(Written by Intern, Megan Davis)
Butterfly Vision is a story not for the faint of heart, sullied by below-average execution. 29-year-old Ukrainian aerial reconnaissance expert Lilia (Marharyta Burkovska) returns home after being held prisoner by Russian separatists. In this time, she is raped by one of her captors and learns upon her return that she is pregnant. Over months, she struggles with the lasting trauma from her imprisonment, while carrying a constant reminder: the baby in her stomach.
The tale is told uniquely through altering footage, but the implementation of this medium is rocky. This includes video taken from drones, cell phones, and live video recordings that are of lesser quality, though that detail within the narrative adds a sense of realism. However, the odd editing choices that may have been enacted with a similar intention do not land as well. There are multiple disorienting cuts between scenes, possible intentional visuals that look as if they were slip-ups in the editing process, and obvious looped elements. One of the first issues I recognized was the latter: a looped viewer count on the live newscast of Lilia’s arrival. The number looms large in the corner, and repeatedly increases from 286 viewers to 290 within seconds before decreasing back to 286. For the entirety of the scene, I watched keenly as the digits rose and fell without going below or above the previously stated numbers, respectively.
A smaller yet jarring problem I noticed was a glitch-like jump between sequences. Nearing the closure of the film, Lilia is shown walking away from the camera. After cutting from the previous shot, a split second of the clip is scaled up before it resumes its normal size within the frame. This was most likely intentional, as there are purposeful effects throughout the Butterfly Vision that add notably to the experience, but from my perspective, this came off as an error made in editing.
I did appreciate the artistry behind the butterfly drone hybrid. At first, it appears to be a real butterfly, but eventually one can see that it is instead a drone taking the form of this beautiful creature. This visual effect is by far the best piece of editing in the whole film, and makes me wonder if they spent all their time in this area instead of correcting other errors. The lighting throughout much of Butterfly Vision is dim, and likewise the coloring is dull – both reflective of the dark story being told. The clothing worn by Lillia (as well as the characters around her) remains neutral, natural, and dark, up until she begins to move away from her trauma and back to the life she loves.
The performances of the cast were not poor; however, they were not particularly moving either. Butterfly Vision is tragic and heartbreaking, but it has the potential to be viewed in an empowering light if it were supported by better technical delivery. I enjoyed the story, but the execution did not do it justice. If one is looking for a film that provides an important (and increasingly relevant) perspective on the Ukrainian-Russian war, Butterfly Vision might be worth a watch.
Butterfly Vision premiered at Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, May 25th.