- 10 May 19
Irish film shows a traveller girl's fight for acceptance.
Directed by Carmel Winters. Starring Hazel Doupe, Dara Devaney, Johnny Collins, Hilda Fay, John Gerard Healy. 101 mins. In cinemas May 10.
The internal and external struggle for acceptance among a Traveller family lies at the heart of Irish director Carmel Winters’ latest feature. After yet another clash with bigoted Gardai ends in tragedy for the Joyce family, father Michael (Dara Devaney) is sent to prison, leaving his children in the care of their loving grandparents. Though unquestionably difficult, the Joyce’s lives are filled with folk songs, stories and the unshakeable bond of family. But when Michael returns, changed by his years behind bars, his grief-stricken, guilt-fuelled need for control manifests in cruel and selfish ways.
Tearing Frances and Patrick away from the extended family in order to travel the country in a traditional caravan, Michael inflicts a series of dangerous and disconcerting abuses on them. He tries to enforce strict gender norms, violently criticising his son Patrick’s (Johnny Collins) perceived lack of machismo, while pushing Frances (Hazel Doupe) to shrink her spirit to fit the quiet, domestic, marriageable mould expected of her. Her opinions, dreams and love of boxing – things Michael once encouraged but now views as threats to her safety – need to be quashed. He becomes to his children what the Gardai are to him; a tormenting and controlling abuser, trying to enforce his own beliefs and way of life, hidden under rhetoric about “knowing what’s best”.
Frances’ love of boxing becomes a somewhat overwrought metaphor for her struggle to resist the various oppressive forces in her life, and the message of the finale is questionable, but Doupe’s performance radiates a maturity and tenacity beyond her years. Devaney captures Michael’s charisma and cruelty, and Winters’ use of vivid colours and powerful score show the simple beauty of Traveller traditions, while also evoking the difficulties and discomforts of their lives. Touching on themes of classism, racism and sexism, Float Like A Butterfly shows the multiple, interconnecting ways that bigotry can box people in, leaving them no choice but to fight their way out.