Wing of truth
"Butterfly" is the beautifully told story of a boy's often-happy and sometimes jarring childhood in Civil War-era Spain.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
There are two remarkable images in the Spanish film "Butterfly" ("La Lengua de las Mariposas").
The first is of a young Chinese woman running through a field a simple, transitory moment
filled with fervent beauty. The second is a slow-motion shot of a young boy chasing after a truck
while hurling rocks and epithets at the downtrodden people inside.
Both images are related in that they deal with loss Jose Luis Cuerda's film is
filled with easy metaphors, as subtle and delicate as a butterfly's wing.
|Original title: La Lengua de las Mariposas.|
Directed by: Jose Luis Cuerda.
Written by: Rafael Azcona, Jose Luis Cuerda, Manuel Rivas.
Cast: Fernando Fernan Gomez, Manuel Lozano, Uxia Blanco, Gonzalo M. Uriarte, Alexis de los Santos, Jesus Castejon, Guillermo Toledo, Elena Fernandez, Tamar Novas, Tatan, Roberto Vidal, Celso Parada, Celso Bugallo, Tucho Lagares, Milagros Jimenez.
Cinematography: Javier G. Salmones.
In Spanish with English subtitles.
Related links: All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
The Chinese woman is running to wave goodbye to a young saxophone player, Andres, who briefly
visited her island home and moved her with his innocence and caring. In the film's more
potent closing scene, Andres' younger brother Moncho runs with tears in his eyes as his cries
of "atheist" and "murderer" turn to more genuine remembrances of his teacher, Don Gregorio,
one of many republican sympathizers now being carted away.
The year is 1936 and Spain is a country divided by the growing Fascist movement.
"Butterfly" describes this time of emotional upheaval through the eyes of an eight-year-old
boy (Manuel Lozano, whose resemblance to Mark Wahlberg is uncanny and whose outstanding
performance as Moncho belies his years). Moncho, an asthmatic, lives with his parents and his
older brother (Alexis de los Santos) and, as the film opens, is being taken to school for the
first time. Having learned that the schoolmaster Don Gregorio strikes his boys, Moncho is, not
surprisingly, fearful, but Don Gregorio turns out to be anything but an insensitive brute,
taking the little Swallow (Moncho's nickname) under his wing and teaching him about nature, bugs, and
the tongues of butterflies.
Don Gregorio is played by Fernando Fernan Gomez, a veteran Spanish actor whose on-screen
performances span more than 170 films. He's wonderful, like a cozy old grandfather whose lap
you wish you could curl up onto.|
Cuerda cleverly relegates the political turmoil to the background so that the overriding
feel of "Butterfly" is a heartwarming coming-of-age tale set during a difficult time rather
than a movie
directly focused on the Spanish Civil War. This allows the director to shape the story with
humor and fondness as we witness the two brothers just being boys amid a lot of beautiful
settings. But the effect of the country's changing allegiances is very much there in the
faces and actions of the Galician townsfolk the rich landowner who attempts to bribe
Don Gregorio with a pair of capons so that his son can receive some personal tutoring, and
the priest who airs his disapproval to Moncho's father now that Moncho's schooling has taken
away his desire
to become an altar boy.
And the impact comes to a head in that final, powerful scene, when Moncho is forced to publicly
renounce his teacher a man who has loved him and cared for him and opened his eyes to the
beauty all around him in order to protect his family's true loyalties.
|JULY 8, 2000|
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Reader comments on Butterfly:
Mariposa from Raul Antonio Garcia, May 27, 2002
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