A Butterfly Is A Love Note Folded In Two

Le Papillon (The Butterfly) – 2002

I bought this beautifully inspiring movie yesterday. Although French, it’s a slow-moving but beautifully filmed movie. It makes you feel good about your family and yourself because somehow at the end of the movie, you just smile; which I really did.

Julian Larieux (Michel Serrault) is a retired widower. Detached from the rest of humanity, his main interest is his butterfly collection. When nine-year-old Elsa (Claire Bouanich) and her mother moved in upstairs, Julian’s initial concern is how much noise the youngster is making. Then, when Elsa’s mother fails to collect her daughter from school and none of the other neighbours prove willing to help, Julian takes the girl with him on his once in a lifetime excursion to find a rare butterfly, the Isabella, only active for ten days of the year…

Anyone want to guess where writer-director Phillipe Muyl’s Le Papillon (AKA The Butterfly) is going? Well, despite Julien’s Blackbeard-like butterfly room and mock confession to Elsa that he murdered his seven wives and “burned them all in the coal furnace”, or the humorous/disconcerting suggestion of a police officer that “In every collector lurks a psychopath” the destination is crystal clear: Julien and Elsa come to complement one another despite the old man’s initial recalcitrance, fulfilling each other’s need for affection and love.

As grumpy old man Larieux, Michel Serrault is predictably effective, while newcomer Claire Bouanich (who reminds one slightly of the 1970s Italian child actress Nicoletta Elmi) does happy, sad, petulant and – above all – cute as required.

The film-makers invests more care with his script and demonstrates a rather more restrained, almost old-fashioned, visual style than one might expect from someone who cut his teeth in the image-driven world of advertising and commercials, tough elsewhere betrays his past with enough shots of picturesque Rhone-Alpes scenery to make one think that someone in the regional tourist board must have had an input into the production.

Utterly predictable yet undeniadably charming, The Butterfly is a straightforward feel-good entry that won’t change the history of cinema but succeeds admirably in its more modest aims.


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