Butterfly Kisses –
THE East End Film Festival has just ended (July 2). And what a festival it has been. Five weekends of taking film out into the community, celebrating East London’s rich cultural mix, showcasing new directors and running an interesting mix of short films and documentaries of the moment (post Brexit referendum).
The festival ended on a high with two hard hitting – and controversial – films at the Curzon Aldgate, a wonderful addition to Curzon’s expanding portfolio of London cinemas (let’s hope the Curzon Soho, under Crossrail siege, survives to fight another decade).
The films are Butterfly Kisses and Insyriated, two brave pieces of cinematic work that deserve a wider audience.
Butterfly Kisses is written by Greer Ellison, a precocious talent who with a bit of luck is destined for greatness. The film provides firm evidence that Ellison is not frightened to tackle the most difficult (and horrific) of issues – in this case paedophilia.
But it is the way he goes about it that displays his obvious writing skills. Rather than portraying the offender as a stereotypically repulsive individual (physically and emotionally), Jake is young (a teenager) and strikingly handsome. Such beautiful eyes.
Although somewhat awkward around girls and women, Jake (Theo Stevenson) hangs around with mates Jarred (Byron Lyons) and Kyle (Liam Whiting) – and gives almost as good as he gets although cocky Jarred cannot stop boasting about his own sexual conquests. A fingering here. A fingering there.
But Jake, when not at the local snooker club run by the somewhat psychotic and fatherly Shrek (Thomas Turgoose), is harbouring a dark secret which the film slowly reveals.
We witness the porn, the frequent masturbating (teenage traits) but it is his spying on a young girl that makes the penny drop. This is not a young lad struggling with his hormones but an individual on an awful road marked ‘paedophilia’.
The film is brilliantly directed by Polish Rafael Kapelisnki who bravely (and successfully) casts newcomers in lead roles (both Lyons and Whiting are making film debuts).
Shot in black and white, it captures perfectly the rough and tumble of south London and the propensity of some young testosterone-driven teenagers to experiment with drugs, violence and sex.
After the film’s showing, Ellison revealed that he is working (with Kapelisnki) on a film idea based around Dennis Nilsen’s house in Muswell Hill, London that has remained unsold since he was convicted in 1983 of carrying out at least 12 gruesome murders in the property.
You could not make it up. Just remember the name. Greer Ellison. Young, self-assured and endowed with talent.
Insyriated is an equally searing film, displaying poignantly the horrors inflicted on the Syrian population by the civil war between President Assad, his army and an array of opposing factions (religious and political).
Directed by Philippe Van Leeuw, it is centred on a block of flats where Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbass) is holed up with family, friends and neighbours. The rest of the residents have long since fled or being killed.
They comprise daughters Yara (Alissar Kaghadou) and Aliya (Ninar Halabi), son Yazan (Mohammad Jihad Sleik) and father-in law Mustafa (Mohsen Abbas).
There is also the obedient maid Delhani (Juliette Navis) who despite the devastation around her goes about her duties with great aplomb, responding to a string of commands from Oum with a dignity barely warranted.
Making up the apartment’s occupants are neighbours Halima (Diamand Abou Abboud), Samir (Moustapha Al Kar) and their newborn plus Yara’s boyfriend Karim (Elias Khatter) who despite the constant gunfire and sound of military aircraft overhead is more interested in getting his tongue down Yara’s throat.
Van Leeuw cranks up the pressure as first Samir is shot in the courtyard (wrongly presumed dead) and then the apartment is broken into by two vigilantes and a dreadful rape committed.
It makes for gruesome and at times terrifying watching. Like Butterfly Kisses it is also controversial as Oum Yazan puts her family before rescuing Halima from her dreadful fate. Should she have intervened?
Abbass is marvellous as the family matriarch, attempting amongst all the carnage to keep the ‘family’ together. Mohsen Abbas plays the slightly doddery Mustafa to perfection as he spends most of his time drinking tea and smoking – and being given the run around by Yazan – while Juliette Navis’ Delhani highlights the plight of low wage foreigners in Syria. Employees who are treated rather disgracefully.
Diamand Abou Abboud is heart breaking as Halima – faced with an awful choice. To be raped (by a creepy bespectacled and inadequate man) or to be raped and probably killed (by a thug). I couldn’t watch it. I didn’t want to watch it.
Of course a film like Insyriated cannot truly capture the horror of what is going on in Syria. But it makes a fist of it and it does portray most vividly the destruction that war causes and how it invades like a terminal cancer homes once rich with life.
The books, pictures, vases and furniture that still occupy Oum’s home all point to a prosperous past – in turn highlighting the awful future facing most Syrians, where indiscriminate death is more certain than a happy ending.
Ending on a cheery note. The 2018 East End Film Festival is scheduled for next spring. Make a note in your diary to check it out.
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Butterfly Kisses – 3/5
Dire: Rafael Kapelinski
Scre: Greer Ellison
Cast: Rosie Day, Elliot Cowan, Charlotte Beaumont, Thomas Turgoose, Theo Stevenson, Luke McKenzie, Honor Kneafsey, Ella-Rae Smith
DOP: Nick Cooke
Insyriated – 4/5
Dire & Scre: Philippe Van Leeuw
Cast: Hiam Abbass, Diamand Bou Abboud, Juilette Navis, Mohsen Abbas
DOP: Virginie Surdej