Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Butterfly

By Marjorie Baumgarten

AUGUST 21, 2000: 

D: José Luis Cuerda; with Fernando Fernán Gomez, Manuel Lozano, Uxia Blanco, Gonazalo Uriarte, Alexis de los Santos, Jesús Castejón. (R, 97 min.)

Although Butterfly teeters on the brink of becoming one of those sentimental movies about a young boy's introduction to the world beyond his doorstep through his friendship with a wise old man, this Spanish movie never crosses that delicate line. In fact, during its closing moments the film's young boy utters something so disturbing that it will cause you to leave the theatre pondering deep questions about the ultimate fate of humankind, rather than feeling engulfed by a serious case of the warm-and-fuzzies that earlier portions of the movie may have led you to expect. Set in the Galician countryside of Republican Spain in 1936 during the brief spate of time between the fall of the monarchy and the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, its historical context is an everpresent but muted element of Butterfly until near the end. The film's drama is developed from a series of short stories by Manuel Rivas. Young Moncho (Lozano), who is so scared of attending school that he pees in his pants on the first day, is befriended by the compassionate and liberal-minded teacher Don Gregorio (Fernán Gomez). Through his teacher, the boy's eyes are opened to the wonders of the natural world and other curiosities. Moncho is also aware of his father's Republican sensibilities (considered by their enemies to be communists and/or atheists) and his mother's more conservative and religious ideologies. Eventually, the country's more conservative forces become the pawns of Mussolini-inspired fascists, who make life miserable for the Republicans. It's at this point that the film's political aspects assume a more central role in the story, but Butterfly doles out its necessary historical information in easily digestible doses. Nicely performed and beautifully shot, Butterfly flutters lightly across the screen, which is why the disturbing ending packs such a punch. It forces us to re-examine everything that preceded it to look for clues and explanations. But there are none, and therein lies the disquietude caused by this film. It's a rare film that can make us look so deeply into the dark soul of the seemingly benign.

3 Stars

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