Michael Winterbottom is in brilliant form in this 1995 neo-noir, “Butterfly Kiss” – about two Lancastrian women of contrasting character who meet and discover a harmony of sorts between them. But the hardboiled ‘road-movie’ is anything but easy-viewing – it is far too realistic for that, thanks to the exceptionally dark characterisation, and the extraordinary performances by its chief protagonists, Eunice (Eu) and Miriam (Mi).
Eunice, psychotic, unkempt, wearing chains around her body as some kind of penitence, scores through highway petrol stations looking for one ‘Judith’, and meets lonely soul Miriam, an attendant at one of the stores. It becomes obvious they’re an odd couple – as much as Eunice is selfish and mean, Miriam is generous and kind, but they hit it off. By the time Miriam discovers Eunice has killed someone, she’d already fallen in love. She takes it upon herself to stick around with Eunice, and “make her into a good person”.
Mr. Winterbottom purposely avoids revealing Eunice’s past as that might seek to justify her despicable deeds – the objective of the film would be lost. It is clear however that Eunice is tortured by her past, and desperately wants to end it all – killing people because she feels angry, abandoned – by the world, and by God itself. Miriam on the other hand wants to be the one to ‘rescue’ Eunice, but gets infected with Eunice’s bloody mindedness instead. It is interesting to note that all events in the film are shown as a recollection by Miriam, from a detached perspective, and sometimes breaking the fourth wall to talk to the camera. It was ingenious of the director to have shot Miriam’s narration in black and white – this could either be Miriam giving testimony to authorities, or a cinematic depiction of Miriam reflecting on her own conscience – he lets us interpret it our own way. But there’s a telling comment from Miriam to the camera when she talks about Eunice, “…it’s like the things she did, everyone wants to do them really… the difference is that she did it, you know… she wasn’t scared.”
Contrary to some perceptions, the film is not about lesbian love – that’s merely coincidental – it is more about love and loss. Exceedingly well constructed with stunning albeit bleak cinematography, it is supported by an intelligent script, and an aptly chosen sound track mix that include the likes of Cranberries and Bjork. The screenplay and direction is flawless, and the actresses playing Eunice and Miriam – Amanda Plummer and Saskia Reeves respectively, fascinating. The American Ms. Plummer in particular gives a master-class in acting. This is also one of Michael Winterbottom’s finest films, and therefore, Highly Recommended Viewing..!