Art, politics, and craziness conspire to form a rather mechanical melodrama in Black Butterflies, the true-life tale of famed 1960s South African poet Ingrid Jonker (Carice van Houten), whose freedom-promoting work flew in the face of her apartheid-upholding, parliament-censorship minister father (Rutger Hauer). Although ostensibly about racial strife, Paula van der Oest's film trains its most rigorous focus on Ingrid's romantic relationship with author Jack (Liam Cunningham) and, intermittently, budding writer Eugene (Nicholas Pauling), both married men whom Ingrid treats with a combination of adoring passion and fickle cruelty. Abortion and murder also factor into the life of volatile Ingrid, yet van Houten is most intensely convincing in quiet, brooding moments, with her more mad behavior often feeling too mannered and showboaty. At the root of Ingrid's inner turmoil, which eventually leads her to mental asylums and suicide attempts, are daddy-daughter issues that the film treats with the same bluntness—leaden King Lear references included—that infects its expository-heavy dialogue. Black Butterflies too often shows and tells, a misguided approach epitomized in the expressionistic sequences of voiceover poetry set to the sight of Ingrid finding inspiration for and then literally writing said poetry.
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