Butter on the Latch (2013)

Butter on the Latch
Director: Josephine Decker
Writer: Josephine Decker
Cast: Sarah Small, Isolde Chae-Lawrence, Charlie Hewson, Emily Decker, Stephan Goldbach, Yury Yakor
Seen on: 13.3.2021

Plot:
Sarah (Sarah Small) lives the hectic New York Life behind for a few days to spend it with her friend Isolde (Isolde Chae-Lawrence) at a Balkan song and dance camp that takes place in the middle of a forest. They spend their days talking and drumming and singing and talking some more – until they have a falling out over an apparent triviality and Sarah starts pursuing Steph (Charlie Hewson).

Butter on the Latch is Decker’s debut feature and having seen (almost all) her films now in (almost) reverse chronological order, it is clear how much she has grown as a filmmaker since her first film. But that doesn’t mean that Butter on the Latch doesn’t have good qualities. It is still a very strong debut.

The film poster showing a drawing of two women holding each other surrounded by swirls and swirls of hair.

Butter on the Latch tells a story that is rather simple, at least at first glance. But the longer it goes on, the more you start doubting what is actually real and what is imagined or dreamed here and what really is going on with Sarah and Isolde. Both Small and Chae-Lawrence are really great in their roles. They apparently improvised a lot and it translates as a feeling of real friendship on-screen.

The first few minutes of the film do kind of announce that things may not be quite as simple. As we are thrown into a theater performance, and before we really can get our bearings there, we are already outside of the theater with Sarah and another friend talking about the play. As she walks away from the theater, she gets a phone call that quickly turns very disconcerting as Sarah becomes very agitated and advises whoever is on the other end of the call to just get out and no, they don’t need their shoes. It’s a confusing entry to a film that then seems to be about something else entirely, but it perfectly sets the mood and the themes of the film.

Sarah (Sarah Small) and Isolde (Isolde Chae-Lawrence) walking over a meadow towards a ramshackle shed in white dresses.

It’s a film that keeps you off-balance overall, shifting the ground beneath your feet. Every once in a while it does hit moments of stability, but really it’s at its strongest when it leans into the off-ness of its story and its characters, but also its cinematography and sound.

At times, it is a little too much, though, and the pacing isn’t quite right, making its short runtime feel much longer. But it is a film that is never boring and always challenging you to engage with it. I really enjoyed that.

Sarah (Sarah Small) talking to Steph (Charlie Hewson).

Summarizing: very interesting.

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