She searched for a home, she searched for love. Confronted by Apartheid and a father who was Minister of Censorship. With men like Jack Cope (Liam Cunningham) and Andre Brink, she found much love, but no home. In his first speech to the South African Parliament, Nelson Mandela read her poem "The Dead Child of Nyanga" and addresses her as one of the finest poets of South Africa.
"Black Butterflies", a biographical drama imagining the life and times of famed Afrikaner poet Ingrid Jonker (played with a distracting non-afrikaans accent by Carice van Houten), ventures through uneasy territory of a manic-depressive egocentric leech, who happens per chance to also be a brilliant poet. Focused mainly around her tentative affair with acclaimed novelist Jack Cope (Liam Cunningham), it also features subplots regarding her promiscuous behaviour and romance with Eugene Maritz (Nicholas Pauling), de facto a cryptic Andre Brink, and her conflicted relationship with her father Abraham Jonker (Rutger Hauer), who headed the censorship department of the Apartheid government.
Through her tribulations (without much trials) the audience in swept into the demented and self-absorbed world of the poet with destructive tendencies and little more than a fleeting regard for anything outside of her own virtual obsessions and hyperbolized melodrama. Director Paula van der Oest and scriptwriter Greg Latter leave little sympathy for Ingrid Jonker, portraying her as compulsive, impulsive, bordering on alcoholic, accusatory in nature, morally repugnant with overwhelming inclinations towards destroying everything around her during her turbulent emotional whirlwinds, including overwhelming contemptuous disregard towards her own child. Nonetheless Ingrid remains fascinating and magnetic as a poet epitomised by her internal contradictions and fragility. If this movie was aimed at being an elegy towards the revered writer, than sadly it has failed. But as a character study of a troubled and turbulent individual, which by teasing brilliance ends up spiralling into despair and manic annihilation, it is a captivating experience.
Despite her obvious issues with keeping an accent and the resulting meandering articulation Carice van Houten still manages to convey the obsessive Ingrid with her crippling character disorders. Nonetheless, despite much more limited screen time, she is indiscriminately overshadowed by Liam Cunningham and Rutger Hauer, who come en force in their respective roles. Nonetheless, script-wise the interactions between father and daughter feel dauntlessly underlined, not following through on the key importance of this relationship to Jonker's writings. Filtered through some brilliant cinematography and restrained direction with a touch of poetic artistry, the overall experience was extremely enticing, even if the divisive character of Ingrid Jonker is bound to push all the wrong buttons for many viewers.
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