Playing out as almost Lynchian in its twisted dream-like reality, Buttercup Bill is a unique film from directors Remy Bennett and Émilie Richard-Froozan billed as a “Southern Gothic Romance.”
The film is a psychosexual drama in which two childhood friends reconnect, prompted by the imaginary Buttercup Bill. It convinces Pernilla (Remy Bennett) to leave her reality and return to Patrick (Evan Louison) in a familiar town of the Deep South. This old friend in Pernilla’s psyche represents childhood repression rearing its head and demanding to be revisited, and Buttercup Bill takes us through the consequences. We flit between the past and the present in an unfruitful effort to understand, and watch Pernilla and Patrick’s relationship darken.
There is a unique dynamic between the two. Their ambiguous relation as friends, lovers and the toxicity to the other is strained by secrets yet fortified by their shared past experiences, and Bennett and Louison convey this complex bond well. Nevertheless, the film gives us very little. At most we grow accustomed to the film’s tone and get a sense of their reality in this way, though the captivating performances from the pair make sure we never bore from not knowing.
Buttercup Bill is ambiguous in a stylistic rather than withholding sense. By the end of the film we do not feel cheated out of a resolution as we were never promised one. What is most gripping is the darkening of their relationship, and their dynamic through this decay into jealousy and twisted sexual games. The film’s aesthetic is largely set by the beautiful cinematography which oscillates from scenes in which bright lights illuminate the almost palpably wet walls to sweaty pastel coloured interiors. The cinematography alone disillusions us from any notion of a conventional romance.
Something notable about the film is producer Sadie Frost’s use of an 80% female production crew, and having two women directing it. This not only highlights the capability and importance of female presence in a male dominated industry, but also allows for one of the more authentic female representations with character Pernilla in recent years. Though this female presence is not particularly drawn attention to in Buttercup Bill, I feel it appreciably contributes to the honesty of the film.
I suppose in my reverence of the film, there has to be some mild criticism. Perhaps the ambiguity of Pernilla and Patrick’s relationship may grow tiresome for those who enjoy conclusions. And maybe some of the dialogue between the two is meaningless for aesthetic reasons. And possibly the parallels to David Lynch’s filmmaking, featuring women’s ghostly singing in dusty bars and very apparent colour schemes and lighting, are too on the nose. In spite of all this, Buttercup Bill is a film unlike any I’ve seen, and kept me gripped as opposed to tired like when watching your standard airy film about beautiful people with issues. Above all, it’s enjoyable.
Buttercup Bill is less cerebral than it is haunting. It looks at the way in which the repression of the past can continue to disturb and make living in a present reality difficult without dealing with the demons. It is an accomplished film that stands alone in its own quasi-romance genre. Bennett and Richard-Froozan co-directorial debut is definitely worth exploring.
BUTTERCUP BILL is in UK cinemas and On Demand on 4 September and available on DVD 14 September.