30 October 2011 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Black Butterflies

Black Butterflies is a Dutch film about the life of South-African poet Ingrid Jonker,  shot-through with lines of her poetry. The film was directed by Paula van der Oest and recently released in South Africa. You can see the trailer here.

The name of the movie comes from the line in one of Jonker’s poems: “For the sun that I now cover forever with black butterflies.”

The film is a depiction of the life of Ingrid Jonker (1933-65), who is played by Carice Van Houten. Her parents divorce, she lives with her sister at her mother’s and, after the death of her mother, she and her sister come to live with their father (played by Hauer). Ingrid marries, and gives birth to a daughter, but the marriage doesn’t last. Her father, South-Africa’s Minister of Censorship, opposes her relationship with author Jack Cope (played by Cunningham) and her anti-apartheid poetry. As Ingrid keeps opposing the regime in her poetry, their relationship becomes even more strained and he tells her he never wants to see her ever again.

Reviews of the film have begun to appear in South African newspapers and on various websites.

The Sunday Independent writes: “Black Butterflies is a beautiful portrait of an artist felled in her prime by her own psychological demons, flailing powerless against the noise within, a noise that produced violently beautiful poetry and, chillingly, also served as knife and ending.”

The Mail and Guardian says “Black Butterflies is a film that asserts Jonker as a complex, contradictory and rebellious poet. It provides an exceptional look into her life, concentrating on her tumultuous love affair with Cope, her troubled relationship with her father and her great need to express herself through her poetry.”

City Press concludes: “It’s a brooding, shadowy picture with a severe and emotional gravity. The sum of it all does not pretend to celebrate its primary subject or her turbulent life. Rather, what we are presented with here is a passionate portrait of her wounds.”

Mahala is less complimentary.

I haven’t seen it yet but I have been anticipating it since much earlier in the year when I first heard about it while interviewing Rutger Hauer, who was in Cape Town, filming the Heineken Kidnapping.

Black Butterflies was also mostly shot in Cape Town in March and April 2010. Look out for beautiful beach and sea shots of Llandudno. Other Cape Town locations are the playgrounds and the Promenade in Sea Point, Clifton’s Second Beach, Bo-Kaap, Table Mountain, Chapman’s Peak, Strandfontein, and Noordhoek Beach. A group of   well-known South African actors star too: Graham Clarke as   Uys Krige and Grant Swanby as Jan Rabie, along with many others.  I leave you with a 2007 translation of one of her poems, by Antjie Krog & André Brink, taken from the collection ttitled “Black Butterflies”, published by Human & Rousseau.

Bitter-berry daybreak

Bitter-berry daybreak

bitter-berry sun

a mirror has broken

between me and him

I try to find the highway

perhaps to run away

but everywhere the footpaths

of his words lead me astray

Pinewood remember

pinewood forget

however much I lose my way

I step on my regret

Parrot-coloured echo

tricks me tricks me on

until I turn beguiled

to retrieve the mocking song

Echo gives no answer

he answers everyone

bitter-berry daybreak

bitter-berry sun




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