Love has often been likened to a drug, addicting and putting us into a blissed-out stupor. It can also be as harmful and debilitating as any narcotic. Buttercup Bill, the story of two soulmates struggling to come to terms with their past, premiered at Marfa Film Festival this past July and now comes to the New Orleans Film Festival, explores a love soured by tragic secrets.
The genesis of the film began with something as innocuous as childhood imagination. “Buttercup Bill was my imaginary friend as a kid,” says Émilie Richard-Froozan, who co-wrote and co-directed the film with its star Remy Bennett. “I have no recollection [of him], but I have cousins who would make fun of me for it.” While staying in New Orleans four years ago, she spent time at a house dubbed “End of the Line,” which struck her as magical and an ideal place to shoot a film. Returning to her home in New York, she told Remy about her desire to make a film in New Orleans and the two of them “got cracking.”
The two collaborators met at a filmmaking course at the age of 16, making a short together and bonding over a fondness for directors like David Lynch and John Waters. By the time they got together to make their first feature together, they had established a shorthand with one another that did not require verbal communication. They spent an exhaustive amount of time mapping out “Buttercup Bill” together, resulting in them being entirely in sync throughout shooting. Émilie explains that “We basically just look at each other and know when it isn’t working,” explaining that “we knew exactly what we wanted. We had the same vision.”
“Buttercup Bill” tells the story of soulmates reuniting, their bond unspoken but palpably deep, filled with longing as well as despair. Devastated by the tragic passing of a friend, Pernilla (Remy Bennett) begins to spiral into a depression, haunted by an unresolved history and the spectre of a childhood figment dubbed Buttercup Bill. Reaching an existential crisis from her grief, she takes an exodus to the home of her childhood friend, Patrick (Evan Louison). The two have not spoken in years but regard each other as surrogate siblings, the nature of their intimacy ranging across the full gamut of familial, platonic to the erotic.
The film begins at an erratic pace, Pernilla’s state of mind fragmented by anxiety. The film is cut with an almost Lynchian stream-of-consciousness as the heroine wanders around frenzied, technicolor-lit city streets. Memories overlap and seep into each other, the narrative reality of the film uncertain until Pernilla makes her pilgrimage to Patrick, after which the film settles into a dreamlike groove. The directors describe the contrast as a way of depicting the two worlds that Pernilla inhabits, the nightmarish city where she feels alone and the lovely dream state of when she is with Patrick.
Shot in New Orleans, the production is imbued with the directing pairs’ impression and fondness for the Big Easy. They spent time developing the screenplay here, using the location to inform the texture of the story. The result is a film that serves up a lot of Louisiana style, filled with soulful songs of the region from the 60’s and 70’s. “We had a playlist while writing the script, and it became integral to parts of the film,” Émile says. “When we got down to editing, there were scenes where we had to have the song that we wrote it to. The music was a huge part.” The two directors wanted a score that would contrast with the soul music of the soundtrack as well, delivered by their friend Will Bates’ throbbing and eerie composition.
Another aspect of Buttercup Bill that is distinctly New Orleans is the set design, surreal tableaus populating the picture. A club singer bathed in blue light is flanked by lopsided lampshades to achieve an unsettling romanticism. The home of Patrick’s good friend Joey (Paulie Ligerfelt) is bedecked in Catholic ornaments, like a compact cathedral. A long sprawl of acres is strewn with ominous crosses and signs scrawled with warnings of damnation such as “You Do Nothing To Go To Hell.” For the set design of the film, Remy explains that “It was very important to have everything be very deliberate.” They worked closely with production designer Akin McKenzie to ensure that the surroundings reflected the inner lives of the characters.
The two directors report their time filming in New Orleans was a refreshing departure from filmmaking worlds of New York or L.A. “It was amazing how locals just helped us out of true altruism,” says Remy, noting how their local collaborators were eager to help achieve their vision without needing to be incentivized. “People helped us out in finding locations and were always very gracious.”
The directing duo are currently writing their own separate projects but don’t plan on fully going their separate ways. “We aren’t going to be in the same city, and she’s working on something and I’m working on my own thing, but Remy and I will probably always be working on stuff together,” says Émilie. “We’ll see what happens.”
Buttercup Bill plays Saturday, October 18, 2014, 7:30 p.m. at the Prytania Theatre and Wednesday, October 22, 2014, 9:45 p.m. at the Theatres at Canal Place. For more info and tickets, visit the New Orleans Film Festival website. For more information on the film, visit the official site.
Rob Cameron Fowler is a writer, filmmaker and aspiring barber currently residing in New Orleans, LA. Raised in both the United States and the Middle East, he is a self-professed political junkie, cinema fanatic and purveyor of useless trivia. Follow him on Twitter.