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Film Reviews: Scrapper and Iron Butterflies

Arts Review2023-8-25By: Marc Glassman


Art Films Brighten Tough Times

Scrapper and Iron Butterflies

By Marc Glassman



Charlotte Regan, director and writer

Starring: Lola Campbell (Georgie), Harris Dickinson (Jason), Alin Uzun (Ali)


The winner of the Grand Jury Prize in World Cinema Drama at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, Scrapper is so intensely British that a triumph in Park City, Utah seems surprising. But there it is: people embrace the English in all of their eccentricities, even in the U.S.A. 

Set in a run-down estate, where working class people lead their hard-scrabble lives, debutant director Charlotte Regan’s indie comedy-drama draws you immediately into the tough but quirky existence of Georgie, a 12-year-old girl who is truly a scrapper. Her off-kilter slyly competitive approach to life—quintessentially British—gives colour and humour to every scene in the film, even those that are emotional and tragic. 

Soon after the film begins, it becomes clear that Georgie’s mother has died but she’s concealing it from the authorities and even her neighbours, who think that her uncle “Winston Churchill” is taking care of her. Only her best mate Ali knows what’s going on and he quietly backs Georgie in her main way of making a living, which is stealing bikes. Ali understands that Georgie is going through the five stages of grief: she’s already played out denial, anger and bargaining, leaving her only having to deal with depression and acceptance. 

Things are definitely not sorted in Georgie’s life, though she claims it is, when, all of a sudden, Jason arrives. She’s startled when he tells Georgie that he’s her dad, but not enough to stop her from locking the doors and refusing to talk to him. Not a great start for a father-daughter relationship but things can only go up. Just as stubborn and resourceful as Georgie, Jason figures out how to break into the house easily and slowly begins the process of winning over his daughter. Tall, with frosted white hair, wearing track pants and shoes, Jason seems as much of a kid as Georgie, who always wears her mother’s old West Ham United shirt. 

The film—and Jason’s and Georgie’s relationship—builds to a height when they spend a day together, making up dialogue for a couple standing on the other side of the train station from them and just generally having a laugh. Georgie may have been won over by the end of their trip together, but as revolutionary leaders always say after a victory, “now the hard part begins.” Will Jason make it as a father? Perhaps there can be a sequel in five years.

In England, and in festival film circles, Scrapper has a unique problem: another brilliant father-daughter film, Aftersun, won everyone’s hearts just last year. The directors even have the same first name, and Charlotte Wells’ film won even more awards—a BAFTA, a Directors Guild of America prize, one from the New York Film Critics—than has Ms. Regan’s. Of course, they’re not the same films: Aftersun is far deeper and mor melancholy than Scrapper. In fact, Charlotte Regan may have pushed the eccentric humour in her film a bit too far: we didn’t need talking spiders or nicely photographed groups of kids in identical colours—White girls in a semi-circle in pink, Black boys seated on yellow bikes—speaking directly about Georgie to the camera. 

Still, Scrapper is a worthwhile first feature, especially due to the brilliant performances of Lola Campbell as the feisty Georgie and Harris Dickinson as the ever-cool Jason. It’s worth viewing and deserves the accolades it’s receiving. 


Iron Butterflies

Roman Liubyi: Director/Screenwriter/Editor 

Cinematographer: Andrii Kotliar 

Sound Designer: Andrii Rohachov 

Composer: Anton Baibakov 

Choreography: Bridget Fiske 


The death in an airplane crash of Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin not far from Moscow is a harsh reminder of the ruthless tactics taking place in Russia during its war with Ukraine. While Vladimir Putin may never accept responsibility for the demise of his former ally, who defied him by marching troops towards Moscow mere months ago, the message is clear that no one should humiliate Russia’s leader. 

This isn’t the first time in recent years that Russia has been involved in a disaster involving an airplane, making the release this week of the extraordinary documentary Iron Butterfiles that much more piquant and ironic.

Iron Butterflies recounts the tragic story of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), which was shot down by a Russian Buk surface-to-air missile on July 17, 2014, over the disputed terrain of Donetsk Oblast in Ukraine, causing the death of 298 people. It is the deadliest civilian airline attack in history—and Russia continues to deny responsibility for the act. As the film shows, a Dutch court found two Russians and one Ukrainian separatist guilty of the war crime but, of course, the convicted parties remain free in Putin’s land, where they are considered innocent of all charges. 

One can only speculate about Russia’s official response to Prigozhin’s fate, and what happened to his airplane, but it would be no surprise if there is no admission of culpability for his death. 

What’s impressive about Iron Butterflies is the brilliant artistic rendering of a catastrophic tale. Filmmaker Roman Liubyi, who wrote, edited and directed the film has worked with a talented team–sound designer Andrii Rohachov, composer Anton Baibakov and choreographer Bridget Fiske—to memorialize the dead while never forgetting the stupidity and absurdity of their expirations. Liubyi assumes that we know the bare bones of the story, which was broadcast worldwide, and plays out his telling in an avant-garde style. Choreography is employed to great effect, perhaps most alarmingly when dancers dressed as Russian soldiers burst into a Ukrainian home, terrorizing the three people living there, placing their hands threateningly over the mouths of these innocent civilians, who are effectively silenced in their own land. Music by Anton Baibokov is post-minimalist, using a solo piano to alternatively create melancholic and discordant chords, and moods. 

Throughout the film, Liubyi employs short scenes in a variety of styles to give a new appreciation of the MH17 air disaster. Everything from newsreels to animation to dance to straight documentary is used to convey the story of the terrifying tragedy. Iron Butterflies goes beyond expectations of what one normally sees in a doc. It is film art in service of humanity and politics. 

Liubyi pays homage to both in the film. 

In one section, he concentrates on the story of singer Robbie Oehlers, a plain-spoken Dutchman who lost his 20-year-old cousin Daisy in the flight. Oehlers went to the site of the crash months after the disaster, searching for artifacts from her life. He was unsuccessful but appalled that evidence of the crash was still in view, due to the war between Russia and Ukraine. Like so many others, he was left to grieve while a war continued to rampage around him amidst the memories of his deceased and beloved cousin.

Politics—and not just about the war—also figures into the MH17 catastrophe. Major members of a delegation heading to a major International AIDS conference in Melbourne died on the flight, including globally recognized scientist Joep Lange and acclaimed lobbyist Pim de Kuijer. Their voices—and those of others—were stilled in the unprovoked attack. 

Liubyi has created a film that should be seen by anyone who loves art and hates dictators. Iron Butterflies is an important documentary, which is even more relevant now that Putin’s Russia has flexed its muscles again.



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