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TIFF Review: Float Like a Butterfly

Inspired by boxing legend Mohammad Ali, a 15-year-old girl living in Ireland during the 1960s battles against social and patriarchal prejudices as she attempts to make her own mark upon the world.

In 1960s Ireland, a tight nomadic community of Irish Travellers are harassed by a bigoted police sergeant and his colleagues which leads to the father of a young girl being imprisoned and the death of her mother.  Years later when the incarcerated parent is released he is reunited with his now 15-year old daughter.  Whereas the dynamics between them has been changed, the hatred and persecution from the local law enforcement officers has not diminished.   A road trip to Dublin where Mohammad Ali is scheduled to have a boxing match, leads to a family revival and a confrontation with an unrelenting nemesis.

The prologue is handled cleverly as Dara Devaney portrays Michael as a loving father and husband through his actions which involves dancing with a young daughter imitating the fight moves of Mohammad Ali and pretending that the pregnant belly of his wife is a banjo.  Hazel Doupe endears herself to the audience by playing the grown-up Frances with a mischievous glint in her eye and having a willpower that packs more of a punch than her fists.  The rest of the Irish Traveller community provides a solid supporting cast.

The trouble is with the forces of opposition led by Aidan O’Hare who is a one note villain as the malicious police sergeant which makes the conflict more contrived than genuine.  Credit must be given to filmmaker Carmel Winters for the bittersweet conclusion but there still remains a formulaic undercurrent of emotional manipulation that causes audience members to never quite forget that they are watching a movie.  A smart narrative decision was jumping ahead to the release of father from prison which helped to propel the storytelling along.  The cinematography is lush and the production design does a great job of recreating Ireland during the 1960s.  Float Like a Butterfly delivers a emotional wallop now and then but not a knockout punch.

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Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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