Butterfly’s Tongue (also known as Butterfly) is the English release title for La lengua de las mariposas (Spanish The Tongue of the Butterflies), a 1999 Spanish film directed by José Luis Cuerda. The film centres on Moncho (Manuel Lozano) and his coming-of-age experience in Galicia in 1936. Moncho develops a close relationship with his teacher Don Gregorio (Fernando Fernán Gómez) who introduces the boy to different things in the world. While the story centres on Moncho’s ordinary coming-of-age experiences, tensions related to the looming Spanish Civil War periodically interrupt Moncho’s personal growth and daily life.
The film is adapted from 3 short stories from the book ¿Qué me quieres, amor? by Galician author Manuel Rivas. The short stories are “La lengua de las Mariposas”, “Un saxo en la niebla”, and “Carmiña”.
The film received some critical acclaim. It was nominated for the 2000 Goya Award for “Best Picture” and it won the Goya Award for “Best Adapted Screenplay.”
For Moncho, it’s an idyllic year: he starts school, he has a wonderful teacher, he makes a friend in Roque, he begins to figure out some of the mysteries of Eros, and, with his older brother, a budding saxophone player, he makes a trip with the band from their town in Galicia. But it’s also the year that the Spanish Republic comes under fire from Fascist rebels. Moncho’s father is a Republican as is the aging teacher, Don Gregorio. As sides are drawn and power falls clearly to one side, the forces of fear, violence, and betrayal alter profoundly what should be the pleasure of coming of age.
- Cinema Writers Circle Awards, Spain: Best Screenplay, Adapted: Rafael Azcona
- Cleveland International Film Festival: Best Film
- Goya Awards: Best Screenplay – Adapted: Rafael Azcona, José Luis Cuerda and Manuel Rivas
- National Board of Review, USA: Top Foreign Films
- Ondas Awards: Best Director: José Luis Cuerda
- Toulouse Cinespaña: Audience Award: José Luis Cuerda
Directed by: José Luis Cuerda.
Produced by: Fernando Bovaira and José Luis Cuerda.
Written by: Rafael Azcona, José Luis Cuerda and Manuel Rivas.
Cast: Fernando Fernán Gómez, Manuel Lozano, Uxía Blanco, Gonzalo Uriarte, Alexis de los Santos, Elena Fernández, Tamar Novas …
Music by: Alejandro Amenábar.
Cinematography: Javier Salmones.
Editing by: Ignacio Cayetano Rodriguez and Nacho Ruiz Capillas
Distributed by: Warner Sogefilms S.A.
Release date: 24 September 1999
Running time: 96 minutes
Amazon’s Customers Reviews
Butterflies are not always free -By Billy J. Hobbs
“Butterfly” (“Mariposa” in Spanish) is a Spanish film set in 1936, in the pre-stages of the Spanish Civil War. Filmed in the standard European method (i.e., very well!), this film brings together Moncho (a young boy), his family, his village and its politics, and an aging school teacher, who only wants to teach that everyone should live free (or “at least one generation of Spaniards should live free!”). It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking film about the struggles, internally and outwardly: of trying to grow up and understand an adult world that seems bizarre at best, of wrestling with a myriad of political “solutions” facing the country at the time (which pitted Church against king against the fascists against the communists, thus leaving innocent Moncho completely confused.
The film quite adequately carries these themes and, alas, with no happy conclusion (it’s not Hollywood, after all!). Moncho sees this adult world come crashing down upon his own sensibilities, and being six years old, find himself unable not only to cope with it but not to be able to understand it at all, try as hard as he may. Politics wins out, at least at this time and civil liberties (certainly a stranger to Spain at that time in history) once more fall by the camino real.
“Butterfly” makes a striking statement about the Human Condition, and how some cope, some reject, some distort, and some accept it. Seen from the perspective of Americans who seem to take civil liberties for granted, freedom on every corner, and rights in abundance, we can only feel saddened that these citizens know not freedom’s ring. We do know, however, even though perhaps in another venue, the heartbreak of deception, of lost love, of being manipulated by false forces.
This is a powerful film that, subtitles aside (American audiences don’t always “accept” them!), is worth the effort.
Absorbing Story about a Boy and a Teacher in Spain - By Tsuyoshi
“Butterfly” is an absorbing story about young, innocent brothers of a tailor living in Spain just before the civil war begins, and as you already may guess, it begins sweetly and ends sadly. The focus of the film is set on the relationship between the younger brother Moncho and his retiring old teacher. And around them well-drawn people of a Spanish village in winter, 1936, are portrayed.
You may think historical knowledge is needed; actually, though it helps, not exactly necessary. The film skillfully tells a chain of episodes about a Chinese girl (with whom elder brother falls in love) or a woman who seems more attracted to her dog than to her lover. But the most impressive scene is, as everyone would agree, the heart-rending ending. Probably, interpretation of the scene in point would differ among viewers (listen the boy’s last word; it’s the key), but as to its stunning reality revealing the innate weakness of human beings, no one would disagree. Is the friendship between the boy and the teacher really ended? The director, I think, took the best course, leaving the answer up to us. Mine is that it is a hopeful one. The teacher knows, and underdstands, the kid had to do it. I’d like to think so.
The film’s script was made from Manuel Rivas’s original book, collection of short stories, and the film used several stories to compose the whole story, so this process may explain a little slack development of the film. Sometimes “Butterfly” suffers from a loose connection between rather irrelevant episodes, but it is saved by its wonderful photography capturing the beauty of the country. Remember, the story is slow, but the entire film finally makes up for it. It is sad, but not without hope.
One thing more: the film’s music was composed by Alejandro Amenabar, director of “Open Your Eyes” (later remade as “Vanilla Sky”) and “The Others.” He is responsible for the music of those two movies, too.
Childhood Innocence Abused By Political Strife - By Grady Harp
‘La Lengua de las mariposas’ (BUTTERFLY) is a small miracle of a film, one of those magical experiences that reminds us about the beauty of life but also about the realities of living in a world ruled by politics and adversity and how all of that affects the vulnerable child. The Spanish title refers to the tongue of the butterfly that must trust the throat of a flower to deliver its nectar and at the same time the flower must trust the deliverer of its procreation. And there is much to be found in that brief title.
The time is 1936 in the region of Galicia in Spain when the country is on the verge of a civil war. We meet Moncho (Manuel Lozano, an amazing child actor) who is also known as Sparrow, who lives with his tailor father and housewife mother and older brother Andrés (Alexis de los Santos) who plays the saxophone. Moncho is to begin school and is terrified of being ridiculed because of the breathing apparatus he must carry to treat his asthma. But to school he goes and there he is taken under the wing of the kind old teacher Don Gregorio (the brilliant Fernando Fernán Gómez) who gently introduces Moncho to the finer things in education – the observation of nature and the miracles of life. Moncho makes friends with Roque (Tamar Novas) and together the lads discover some of the realities of life: they observe a bizarre sexual encounter which later will reveal much about Moncho’s family, and they begin to learn about the political adversity that colors the lives of the conservative Catholic little community. Andrés falls in love with a Chinese girl and therein lies another complex lesson in life. Eventually the political life comes to a head and the entry of Franco’s regime divides the people between republicanism and communism, and Moncho must face the cruelties that befall his mentor as he must side with his family. And the effect of the loving, meaningful relationship between teacher and pupil is left for the viewer to decide.
As directed by José Luis Cuerda and written by Cuerda and Rafael Azcona based on stories by Galician writer and journalist Manuel Rivas, the film, while always a work of great beauty and tenderness, feels a bit fragmented at times, probably due to the fact that separate stories were combined in one film, leaving portions of some sidebars with an incomplete resolution. But the wonder of the film lies in the acting by both Fernando Fernán Gómez and Manuel Lozano who together create a memorable bond that already has become a cinematic gold standard. The cinematography by Javier G. Salmones and the simple but note perfect musical score by Alejandro Amenábar set standards for Spanish filmmaking.
This is a story to inform and to remind us how we as human beings are prone to follow external influences more than obeying our hearts and caring for our souls. BUTTERFLY paints a vivid portrait of Spain on the knife of revolution and the effects such changes can make in the eyes of a child. It is a brilliant little movie. In Spanish and Latin with English subtitles. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, January 07Butterfly's Tongue,
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