The Butterfly’s Dream, screened for LAWAC members on Monday night, is a beautifully-filmed love story set in the dark days of Turkey in the Second World War, where men have to choose between becoming a soldier or working in the coal mines, and poverty and disease make life a constant struggle. Into this setting come two young poets, who both fall for the daughter of a rich industrialist. They decide to woo her by each writing a poem and see whose writing the woman favors.
The woman, played strikingly by Belcim Bilgin, is chauffeured around in her father’s car and plays tennis and goes to chic dance parties. She lives in a different world from that of the two penniless poets - at one point they negotiate a price with a merchant to buy the books of poetry they have written so he can uses the pages as wrappers for nuts. (“People can read your poems when they have eaten all the nuts,” he says helpfully). But the poets persuade the rich girl to act in a play they are writing which involves a young woman disguising herself as a man to follow her love interest down into the Turkish coal mines. The girl’s father intervenes to break up the trio, and the two men end up in Istanbul, still chasing their dream to become successful published poets.
This is Turkey’s official entry for the Academy Awards, and is the first big budget movie made in Turkey to seek wide-scale international distribution. It is a stunning entree into world cinema, and opens a door for other Turkish film-makers to walk through. Bilgin is captivating on the screen. In one scene she and one of the poets paint each other’s faces with coal dust to disguise themselves - never has dirt looked so enticing.
Lead actress Belcim Bilgin discussed the film in a Q & A moderated by Lorenzo Saria, VP of the Hollywood Foreign Press.
In a Q&A after the screening, Bilgin, said “It is a sad story, but at the end it is beautiful because they achieve their passion” - which is to create poetry. The director, Yilmaz Erdogan, said he wanted to write the movie like a poem, and shoot it like a series of paintings - the script went through 12 drafts, and then was rewritten again as they were filming.
The title The Butterfly’s Dream comes from the work of the ancient Chinese philosopher, Zhuangzi, who wrote about not being sure if he was dreaming that he was a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly dreaming about being Zhuangzi. The young poets follow their dreams, never quite sure where the real world ends and their imagination takes over - and the viewer gets similarly drawn into their lives, with all the joys and hardships they endure. And in the end it is a beautiful dream.