La Lengua de las mariposas
review by Dan Lybarger, 25 August 2000
Like François Truffaut’s The
400 Blows, Butterfly (La
Lengua de las mariposas) is a story that, while told from a
child’s point of view, is unflinching in its depiction of the more
contemptible aspects of human nature. Set during the Spanish Civil
War, Butterfly makes the
human cost of fascism vividly real.
Curiously, director José Luis
Cuerda and writer Rafael Azcona (working from the novel Que
Me Quieres, Amor? by Manuel Rivas) don’t overload the film
with gloom. Most of the handsomely photographed movie is filled with
a sense of wonder that makes the conclusion even more devastating.
Manuel Lozano plays Moncho, a small asthmatic boy who is frightened
by the prospect of his first day at school. His condition makes him
naturally wary of his peers, and the teacher, Don Gregorio (Fernando
Fernán Gómez from The
Grandfather) is a tall, intimidating old man. Unlike the other
people in Moncho’s village, he speaks in a rarefied manner and
seems like the sort of instructor who would beat a youngster into
obedience. Worse, the old man may be something the town fears and
distrusts intensely, an atheist. Moncho finds the experience so
frightening that he wets himself as Don Gregorio introduces him to
the class. The shock sends the lad running home.
Fortunately for him, Don Gregorio
is as kind as he is mysterious. When his students misbehave, he
calms them down with psychology instead of a rod. He even comes to
Moncho’s home to apologize for scaring the boy. His enthusiasm for
books and nature rubs off on his pupils, particularly Moncho. He
takes the boys on insect hunts and provides emotional support that
is sometimes missing at home.
Don Gregorio is one of several
unusual but likable people who inhabit Moncho’s home. There are
Moncho’s loving but bickering parents: Mom is devoutly Catholic
and traditional, while Dad is staunchly behind the doomed Republic
and changes it has brought about. They share the house with
Moncho’s older brother, a sax player with a shortage of soul.
There’s also a young man who has a tempestuous affair with a young
woman who insists on making love as her dog Tarzan attacks him.
José Luis Cuerda
Fernando Fernán Gómez
Gonzalo M. Uriarte
Alexis de los Santos
Elena Mar Fernández
José Luis Cuerda