Poetry, politics, madness, and desire collide in the true story of the woman hailed as South Africa’s Sylvia Plath. In 1960s Cape Town, as Apartheid steals the expressive rights of blacks and whites alike, young Ingrid Jonker (Carice van Houten, Black Book) finds her freedom scrawling verse while frittering through a series of stormy affairs. Amid escalating quarrels with her lovers and her rigid father, a parliament censorship minister (Rutger Hauer), the poet witnesses an unconscionable event that will alter the course of both her artistic and personal lives.
Ravishing cinematography by Giulio Biccari and a classical approach to dramatic storytelling by consummate Dutch filmmaker Paula van der Oest augment van Houten’s magnetic central performance in Black Butterflies. As a woman governed by equal parts genius and mercurial gloom, Jonker could inspire passion but never, it seems, love—a sad truth critically conveyed by van Houten. Jonker’s inner turmoil mirrored her country’s upheaval, but van der Oest is never heavy-handed with her parallels of the poet and the South African maelstrom happening around her: The relationships in the film are a lens through which to view a cultural zeitgeist, but the people always have center stage, not the politics. —Tribeca Film Festival
Biopic of Ingrid Jonker unfortunately fails to engage despite a strong performance by Carice van Houten. Disjointed narrative and hackneyed script does the film no favours either just solidifies the lack of narrative poetry in a film that should embrace it. Biccari's camerwork is quite striking but director van der Oest seems out of her comfort zone here.