Intimate Strangers
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Intimate Strangers

Three estranged adult siblings reunite for a road trip after being mysteriously summoned to their home village by their long-absent father, confronting their shared, Nightmare Cinema troubled past along the way — on the face of it, Turkish writer-director Tolga Karaçelik’s heartsore, ruefully funny third feature “Butterflies” sounds like the very template of a laughter-through-the-tears Sundance crowdpleaser. But there’s a stranger, slyer current to this playful exercise in tone-switching that keeps the journey surprising even as its overall destination becomes clear. Not every one of the film’s absurdist comic lunges lands, and at just shy of two hours, this particular shaggy dog wouldn’t be hurt by a slight trim. But when Karaçelik keeps the focus squarely on the honest, complicated emotions of his superbly played core trio of characters — and less on the quirkier goings-on fizzing around them — “Butterflies” morphs into something rather lovely.

A Grand Jury Prize win at Sundance should boost the distribution prospects of a film destined for a long and popular festival run following its bows in Park City and Rotterdam. Meet the Blacks A very different kettle of kalkan from the intense genre mechanics of Karaçelik’s previous, well-traveled feature “Ivy,” his latest should comfortably build on that film’s distinguished profile. Though “Butterflies” gains interest from its specific, raki-doused cultural trappings — particularly those relating to the Muslim faith and community — its essential drama of a family broken and tenuously mended is a wholly universal one. (It’s not at all difficult to imagine the dynamics and geography of a hypothetical U.S. remake.)

The film opens on something of an outlandish red herring, as fortysomething Cemal (Tolga Tekin), a Turkish astronaut long settled in Germany, addresses Angela Merkel in a live news report on the negligence of the German space program, before underlining his protest by setting fire Gloria Bell to his spacesuit in the studio. The tone is thus set for a harsher, more manic comedy, which continues as we’re introduced to Cemal’s two younger siblings: Kenan (Bartu Küçükçağlayan), a down-on-his-luck actor reduced to doing banal voiceover work, and Suzan (Tuğçe Altuğ), a teacher in the crumbling stages of her marriage to a grotesquely self-absorbed businessman. Karaçelik paints their individual person crises in broad strokes; once the three are brought together, however, their characters grow more textured and credible.

Duration: 115 min



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