We sometimes forget forget and make the assumption that the Russo-Ukrainian War stopped in 2014 and recommenced two years ago. However, Maksym Nakonechnyi‘s The Butterfly Vision remind viewers that it is an ongoing conflict. Citizens fought the war between those years in their own ways, although Lilia ‘Butterfly’ (Marharyta Burkovska) fights the war in a conventional way. A drone reconnaisance agent, Donbas fighters capture her but eventually free her as part of a prisoner exchange. Returning to the Ukraine, however, means that doctors have to test her so that she’s not bringing in infections to the general public. She’s hesitant to take some of these tests, reluctant to reveal something that everyone is going to know anyway. One of the Donbas fighters sexually assaults her and she becomes pregnant. Much of the film becomes about the community of women who don’t necessarily treat her well because of her pregnancy.
This isn’t to say that Lilia has to suffer through women slut-shaming her. It’s more that these women, mostly elderly women, are opening up about their trauma to her because of the way they perceive their promixity to her, but they’re also making it about themselves. Besides, slut shaming is what one Russian Youtube troll does. Speaking of that, Butterfly Vision does address the online aspect of the war. Specifically, there are scenes here where we see moments of her life through drone footage, which, in fairness, a film’s gotta do what it can to stand out. She also sees digital hallucinations which are more effective. And speaking of digital, there’s a video of her fiancee Tokha (Liubomyr Valivots) participating in demolishing a Romani settlement which isn’t beating the allegations that Russians and leftist POC have lobbed against Ukrainians separately.
Butterfly Vision says a lot of political statements without being didactic, leaving that job to documentaries. What this does, as fictional narrative films often do, is to show the personal aspect of these conflicts. Admittedly, there are gaps in depicting this personal aspect. It sometimes chooses ambiguity over clarity and taking two scenes to express what they could do with one. And yes, I understand the irony here. I’m ciriticizing a film for ambiguity while being ambiguous about a spoiler-y plot twist to a film that more people should see. The film also says a lot of old adages like there are no good sides. But somehow, it feels revolutionary within this context. It also shows the emotional impact that other people have when they make rash decisions. Lastly, it shows that one doesn’t have to be perfect for us to understand how they deal with trauma.
Butterfly Vision is now playing on MUBI as part of their Cannes Takeover retrospective.