“Were you tortured as well?” a reporter asks Lilia at the grand reception after a hostage exchange. The aerial reconnaissance specialist is reluctant to reveal her scarred, grey, and starved body after having been held captive by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region for several months. After Lilia’s release, her husband, family, and country consider her a hero of the resistance movement and she is given the nickname “Butterfly”. But this is not how she sees herself. Keeping silent about her experiences of torture, humiliation, and rape, she is now expecting a child from her abuser.
A quintessential work of contemporary Ukrainian cinema, Butterfly Vision is a piercing metaphor for the Ukrainian people’s self-determination and the succession of violence. Maksym Nakonechnyi’s debut film is characterised by its contextual acuteness and simultaneously by the delicacy with which it handles the protagonist: her body, her past, and her possible future. Butterfly Vision visualises Lilia’s memories (played by a stoic Rita Burkovska) with restraint – the horrors evaporate in drone footage, pixel blizzards, and flashing shots. After the film’s world premiere in the Cannes Un Certain Regard section, Nakonechnyi said: “The idea for this movie came to me back in 2018 while I was editing a documentary about Ukrainian women who were fighting in the ongoing war. One of the protagonists said that she had made a deal with her fellow combatants: they would kill her rather than let her be taken prisoner by the enemy.”