Out Takes 2005 | Lumiere Feature


Butterfly / Gay Republicans

Image: Butterfly

Scratching the surface, we sampled a mere handful of films (okay, a pitiful two) from the always vast and eclectic programme of cinema at the annual Out Takes Gay & Lesbian Film Fesival. For information on what else is screening, where and when, visit www.outtakes.org.nz

Butterfly (2004)
Yan Yan Mak | Hong Kong | 124 min | Featuring: Josie Ho Chiu-Yi, Tian Yuan, Eric Kot Man-Fai, Isabel Chan Yat-Ning.

AT PRIMARY school the Chinese girls would often walk into the toilets hand in hand. No one else in the school did it, only the Chinese girls. I used to watch them; fascinated – could it be that there were (gasp) gay girls at my school? As a ten-year-old the idea was so exciting; I could be witnessing deviance in action!

My hopes were dashed when I saw similar groups of girls holding hands out in public; I hadn't happened upon something special, little gay Chinese girls were everywhere.

When I finally asked someone how it was that in societies as tightly controlled as China, Taiwan, Korea there could be so many overt lesbians. Their response was at first a shock of laughter and then a long low shake of the head.

"They aren't all gay! They are friends, they hold hands, I hold my mothers hand, I hold my friends hand; no difference! Does everyone think we are all gay?"

At that point I had to beat a hasty retreat; I didn't want to be the one to explain that yes, many of us did think they were gay (just a little bit) – the shame I felt at being so ignorant, so rooted in my own little world of values, was enough to make me want to run and hide.

The two young girls in Butterfly hark back to these ten year old imaginings; swapping smiles and sly notes across the classroom, running out of school to hang out on high-rise roof tops, listening to passionate Patti Smith inspired lyrics and yes, holding hands in the process. These are the invigorating things I imagined the bathroom girls did at school when they weren't studying; they must have, they always had smiles on their faces, smiles with sudden giggles that I was forever jealous of – why did I have to bother with boys who forever dumbfounded me?

Perhaps it is such questions that linger with me that Butterfly was able to tap into – the peacefulness, the anger, the disenfranchised youths wanting to touch something that didn't need to turn around and penetrate them in response.

For those who have some experience growing up in a Chinese society the themes of this film will take very little explaining; the rejection of lesbianism (because females can't have sex – there is no penetration, not male essence, no chance of procreation – right?), the high value society places on children, the importance of appearing and performing normally. For those who haven't grown up around such values however, the film will still resonate with you; you could question whether the west treats homosexuality as a 'real' choice yet, whether we think women are as important as the baby inside them, whether there really is a 'normal' that the majority of the population bell curve actually live up to.

The film is based around Flavia's reflection upon her past; a reminiscing that is prompted by a young woman who inserts herself into Flavia's life. The affinity, stimulation and longing that she feels for this young woman bring backs painful memories of her young love – the school yard-University quad romance with the Patti Smith soundtrack. Married with a little baby and a flash pad, Flavia isn't in a position to make the heart driven decisions that she once could – plus last time she followed her heart a piece of it was taken; locked away in a nunnery.

With mesmerising cinematography, flawless acting and everyday emotion played raw against the blink-of-an-eye Hong Kong backdrop, Butterfly finds that little empty space that you keep to yourself, grabs its hand and takes it away for a serious talk.

–Imogen Neale

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06.06.05 | © Imogen Neale / Lumière 2005

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