In 1960s China, French diplomat Rene Gallimard falls in love with an opera singer, Song Liling - but Song is not at all who Gallimard thinks.In 1960s China, French diplomat Rene Gallimard falls in love with an opera singer, Song Liling - but Song is not at all who Gallimard thinks.In 1960s China, French diplomat Rene Gallimard falls in love with an opera singer, Song Liling - but Song is not at all who Gallimard thinks.
What I hadn't seen was M Butterfly. The almost unmentioned work which takes Cronenberg's more mature approach to filmmaking and fulfils his promise by giving him a jewel in what is an extremely impressive crown. I greatly enjoyed the movies I mentioned in the previous paragraph but even the best ones I felt were lacking something for me to be able to say they were a masterpiece. Perhaps they felt a little convoluted, gratuitously gory, or perhaps at times distant and even lifeless in some of his later works. But M Butterfly is none of these things; well some may say its plot is convoluted but, strangely enough, it's heavily based on a true story, or rather it's based on a novel which is based on a true story.
What M Butterfly has, which many of Cronenberg's other films lack, to varying degrees, is relatability and empathy. Pure, unadulterated empathy. It presents its characters not as good or bad; it's not interested in judging or condemning; it is a film which desires to take you deep into the world of an enchanted and tortured man: Rene Gallimard. It wishes to show you his most intimate passions and desires, his triumph, his awakening, his desperation and his suffering. It wishes to explore his self- realisation, his moments of greatest happiness and it wishes to show us his ultimate tragedy.
This is a film which echoes with symbolism. Its structure is tight, its performances, by the two leads, are heartbreakingly sublime. It is influenced by opera, by Hitchcockian psychological, twisted romance, think Vertigo. Its story opens and unfolds like a delicate rose which eventually must wilt and die. This is poetry, this is humanism. This is the most accomplished and meaningful work I've seen in a long time.
If you are even slightly tempted to investigate this then know that, despite its lack of recognition and a number of poor reviews, this film had the power to tantalise and haunt, in equal measure, at least one audience member. I was taken on a journey which I intimately understood only too profoundly. Perhaps it will mean something significant to you too.
- Jan 4, 2016