AFI Fest 2014: ‘Butter on the Latch’

“Butter on the Latch” is the first full-length feature movie by Josephine Decker and is being released in tandem with her second feature “Thou Wast Mild and Lovely.” Her second movie begins as an art film and devolves into a horror movie. This 2013 movie is listed as a fantasy drama.

Set in a Balkan folk song and dance camp in Mendocino, California. As you can imagine the community for Balkan Folk song and dance in California isn’t that big and our protagonist Sarah reunites with her friend Isolde. At almost any summer camp, you’d expect there to be romances and Sarah is interested in Steph.

The film was first released at the USA La Di Da Film Festival last year in September and was written and directed by Josephine Decker.

My screener began with that familiar color card and then showed us two women dressed in white with veils over their heads. They are obviously performing. They fall back to show their white petticoats. Outside, the women hug and we follow the one in a black leather jacket with long straight dark blonde hair. The camera swoops and swoons and isn’t always in focus. Sarah’s on her cellphone with someone who wakes up in a strange place and she’s clearly worried but the camera turns to a bicycle and a bike seat. Later we follow Sarah into the night as she walks through the city and ends up at a dance spot.  Sometimes, all we are seeing are hands and an out of focus ceiling with industrial pipes. The camera angle can disorient us. Sarah ends up half naked (yes, you see bared breasts) at a dodgy flat where she ends up running away.

This is all before the beginning credits and title roll.  The camera sometimes finds an out of focue background as we wait for the character to come into focus. When Sarah (Sarah Small) and Isolde (Isolde Chae-Lawrence)  finally meet, their embrace is out of focus.

There’s some girl talk about men and sex–neither is doing well on that. The camera work is better here although we’re watching two women with small hiking headlights on their heads while they are brushing their teeth.

Their song is about dragons entwined in their hair. If you’re unfamiliar with UC Santa Cruz’s mascot, you’ll get to see one (It’s a banana slug) before you see Sarah blow drying her hair.

While not exactly shaky cam, the camera work can be jerky as well as unfocused and the lighting definitely needs work. I was annoyed by the camera and lighting and neither of the characters Sarah or Isolde interested me even though I do have an interest in folk dance and singing. The jarring cut between unrelated scenes that can also be found in Decker’s second feature “Thou Wast Mild and Lovely” doesn’t make any more sense here.

“Butter on the Latch” is available VoD.


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