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Tribeca Reviews: 'Black Butterflies' & 'The Assault'

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist April 27, 2011 at 4:19AM

“Black Butterflies”Ingrid Jonker (Carice Van Houten) lived an impossible contradiction, writing heart-rending poetry about being a woman of privilege living under apartheid rule, all the while dealing with pressure from the head of the censorship board (Rutger Hauer), a man who also happened to be her father. “Black Butterflies” is the story of how Jonker, a woman with unending sexual cravings and a noted mental imbalance, managed to cope with this dichotomy.
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Black Butterflies
Ingrid Jonker (Carice Van Houten) lived an impossible contradiction, writing heart-rending poetry about being a woman of privilege living under apartheid rule, all the while dealing with pressure from the head of the censorship board (Rutger Hauer), a man who also happened to be her father. “Black Butterflies” is the story of how Jonker, a woman with unending sexual cravings and a noted mental imbalance, managed to cope with this dichotomy.

In the opening, the least poetic of a number of unconvincing metaphors writ large, Jonker is saved from drowning by handsome publisher Jack Cope (Liam Cunningham), an older gentleman who immediately falls for the leggy writer. What he doesn’t know is that her self-abuse, due to living under the rule of her oppressive, emotionally-abusive father, has fractured her personality. She is not the creator she becomes when she puts pen to paper, but rather a little girl seeking stimulation (which she chases in a number of unavailable men) and hoping for the approval of her father (an impossibility).

Van Houten is both sensual and sensitive playing a mother, daughter, artist and alcoholic, often all at once. Her eyes are pools of emotion that director Paula van der Oest uses well, particularly to vex the infatuated Cope, dedicated to helping her even if she refuses. While he is openly racist and altogether monstrous, Hauer is gripping as Jonker’s father, a cold man given to carefully and thoughtfully choosing his words, which are almost always hurtful. When he pauses to collect his thoughts, it’s almost as if he’s checking his words for sharp edges. Despite the lack of humanity and one-dimensional writing, Hauer, like the rest of the cast, add considerable nuance to a portrayal that could have been boilerplate cliché. [B-]

The Assault
In 1994, Muslim extremists took over a commercial flight bound for France in Algiers with the attempt to guide the plane into the Eiffel Tower. What we know of this true life story, which has become modern legend in France after being broadcast live over their television sets at the time, is that they didn’t succeed. So it’s up to director Julien Leclercq to wring suspense out of the situation, turning the very political into the most personal.

Leclercq focuses on the attempts both behind closed doors and in plain sight, as we spend time in the war room debating how to handle the terrorists while the SWAT team arms themselves for bloody battle. His style is the jumpy handheld immediacy, giving equal weight to the suited government representatives struggling with the limited knowledge at their disposal and the heavy artillery siege of the plane. But it’s without the human edge that allows this style to flourish for a filmmaker like Paul Greengrass. Leclercq makes an early effort to engage us in the life of one soldier, but he can only deal in cliché, giving him a kewpie daughter, a concerned but undeveloped wife, and a stock nightmare of charging into a situation and killing the wrong person.

When Leclercq stages the film’s central rescue sequence, it’s a mostly-effective blend of high octane action and tense pacing, but the scenes could have come at any point during the film’s runtime because of our lack of engagement in what feels like cheap action movie heroics. We understand that these things happen, but when a young female decision-maker is the one maverick in the room of stodgy old white men coping with the attack, the filmmakers need to know they’re not preserving real life as much as furthering a classic Hollywood trope. Decisions like these make this seem less like Paul Greengrass remaking “Raid On Entebbe” and more like Pete Travis giving his take on “Operation Thunderbolt.” [C+]

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