La lengua de las mariposas (Butterfly)
Directed by José Luis Cuerda
Review by Matt Heffernan <email@example.com>
In this thoroughly unexceptional summer, it's refreshing to see distinguished foreign films arriving in theatres. Films like Shower, and now Butterfly, finally come to America when we need them most.
Manuel Lozano makes his film debut as Moncho, a young boy growing up in Spain during the mid-1930s. That was a tumultuous time: the monarchy was replaced by a liberal republic, which would be taken over by fascists (who feared losing the country to communists) during a civil war. Moncho's parents (Uxía Blanco and Gonzalo M. Uriarte) may be worried about the political climate, but his chief concern is starting school.
He has asthma, and has spent most his life at home, where he has already learned to read. His parents send him off to learn from Don Gregorio (Fernando Fernán Gómez), an aging but liberal-minded teacher who gains the attention and respect of his class without corporal or verbal punishment. Moncho's little world suddenly opens up, and he becomes very close to his new teacher. This worries the children's parents, because Don Gregorio is openly atheist. As the fascists become more powerful, communism becomes less popular. Having a liberal atheist influence the children could be a dangerous thing, no matter if they are happily learning.
If it weren't for the political issues (and the sex scene which gives the film its R rating), Butterfly would work as a simple family film. But this film is clearly for adults -- those who can recognize that childhood represents more than a time of growth. It is the only time in a person's life in which he can act and think totally without prejudice. We know that Moncho has forty years of fascist oppression ahead of him, but his one year with Don Gregorio will allow him to be intellectually free.
On top of this theme, Butterfly has some wonderful performances, especially from Gómez. His scenes with Lozano work beautifully, showcasing a talent he has exhibited in over 170 films before, and yet he still comes off just as fresh as his young co-star. My only real criticism is that I wanted more; the ending is quite harsh and abrupt, just like the fascist coup itself.
This is certainly a film that will please most audiences, and I would go so far as to name this film an early front-runner for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award. I'm sure greater films will come from abroad, but Butterfly is quite likely to be remembered.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
La lengua de las mariposas (1999)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan