THE BUTTERFLY CIRCUS
A review by Anoray

Joshua Weigel's short film The Butterfly Circus packs in more emotion during its twenty minutes than many films do in two hours. Created for the 2009 Doorpost FilmProject competition, the film beautifully captures and shares its theme of hope without becoming maudlin or melodramatic.

Set during the Great Depression, the touching story (written by Joshua and Rebekah Weigel) concerns the plight of Will (Nick Vujicic). Born without arms or legs, Will lives in despair as the "star" performer of a sordid, traveling circus sideshow.

Will's life changes when he meets Mr. Mendez (Eduardo Verastegui), the enigmatic and charismatic Showman for the renowned-- and far superior--Butterfly Circus. Intrigued by Mr. Mendez's kindness to him, Will stows away in one of Mr. Mendez's trucks in the hopes of becoming part of his sideshow.

The only problem: The Butterfly Circus has no sideshow. The performers are meant to inspire and awe the audience, not elicit shock or contempt because of disfigurements. Mr. Mendez allows Will to join them, but he refuses to put Will in the show. Watching the amazing feats of escape artist, Otto (Doug Jones), George the Strongman (Matt Allmen), and Anna the Trapeze Artist (a graceful Lexi Pearl), Will's eyes are filled with joy...and a longing to escape the sidelines.

Sensitive to all his performers' needs, Mr. Mendez realizes it is time to roust Will out of his self pity. He reveals to Will that most of his Butterfly Circus performers have tragic pasts--but each has managed to discover his or her self worth. He challenges the limbless Will with these words, "The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph."

During a near tragedy, Will must save his own life or drown. This event, along with the help of his compassionate circus colleagues, results in a dramatic turnaround for Will. Fueled by his ability to be more independent, Will carves out a niche for himself in the Butterfly Circus with a daring, spectacular performance. His achievement earns the respect and admiration of his co-workers and audience alike. The most poignant moment in the film occurs when an inspired, crippled boy embraces Will ... and Will uses his cheek and neck to tenderly return the embrace.

Shot on a shoe string, The Butterfly Circus looks anything but. The photography is atmospheric, rich with shadows that underscore the performers' moods and expressive faces. The music of Timothy William is lush and haunting, emphasizing the eloquence of certain key scenes. The period sets, vehicles and costumes are wonderfully authentic with a "lived-in" look, plunging the viewer into the gritty 1930's era. Clearly, cast and crew alike put their hearts into this project and all their talented contributions show up on the screen.

Newcomer Nick Vujicic's lead performance as Will is sensitive and very moving. He possesses a natural integrity and dignity that is vital to the film's tone. As Mr. Mendez, Eduardo Verastegui's accent and gallantry evoke positive comparisons to Antonio Banderas. Standouts in the supporting cast are Doug Jones, whose unique, elegant physique and soulful eyes bring life to Otto, while Matt Allmen provides some welcome comic relief in his turn as the good natured George the Strongman. As keeper of the symbolic caterpillar, little Connor Rosen is unaffected and innocent as Anna's illegitimate son, Sammy.

Although the film references transformation via its frequent use of butterfly imagery, the story actually emphasizes positive internal change (rather than external physical change) to create hope in one's life. Will's character does not magically grow arms and legs. Instead, he undergoes a major inner metamorphosis, realizing he has the power to change his self-perception and how he lives his life.

In this day and age where the media focuses so intensely on "extreme makeovers," it is refreshing to see an uplifting, artistic film devoted to how much beauty we can achieve on the inside.

Anoray
Los Angeles, 30th August, 2009

 

 

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