Jul 28, 2014

Review: La lengua de las mariposas [Butterfly's Tongue] (1999)

I'm not too familiar with the Spanish Civil War but it's something I've seen done in movies before. Take Pan's Labyrinth for example, which weaved the Civil War into its story quite nicely. La lengua de las mariposas is another movie that does that but in a really gentle and unassuming way. It doesn't seem like it's a major part of the story because we're seeing everything through the eyes of a young boy who's got more important things on his mind.

La lengua de las mariposas is a coming-of-age story featuring Moncho. He's a shy kid who has a good heart. He's also got asthma and he's deathly afraid of going to school for the first time because he doesn't want to get hit by his teacher. Luckily, his teacher Don Gregario hasn't got a single violent bone in his body and he instills in Moncho a desire to learn and absorb everything. Both Moncho and Don Gregario are easy characters to like and their relationship is convincingly built.


Genre: drama, music, war
Directed by: José Luis Cuerda
Produced by: Fernando Bovaira, José Luis Cuerda, Jose Maria Iresteiro
Written by: Rafael Azcona, José Luis Cuerda, Manuel Rivas
Music by: Alejandro Amenábar
Running time: 96 minutes
Production company: Canal+ España, Los Producciones del Escorpion, Sociedad General de Televisió, etc
Distributed by: Warner Sogefilms S.A.
Country: Spain
Language: Spanish
Budget: €2,211,800
Box office: €4,632,493 (Spain)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Fernando Fernán Gómez, Manuel Lozano, Uxía Blanco, Gonzalo Uriarte, Alexis de los Santos, Jesús Castejón, Guillermo Toledo, Elena Fernández, Tamar Novas, Tatán, Roberto Vidal Bolaño, Celso Parada, Celso Bugallo, Antonio Lagares, Milagros Jiménez



In Spain, the early rumblings of the Civil War cast a shadow over a small town. Moncho (Manuel Lozano) is a young boy who doesn't really see these warnings signs. He's nervous for his first day at school which he had good reason to be. It's the worst first day you can possible imagine which concludes with many kids laughing and a wet pair of pants. Running out of the classroom with the intention of leaving for America by ship, Moncho is gone all day late into the night before being found by his brother (Alexis de los Santos). He returns the next day with a gentle, prodding hand from his teacher Don Gregario (Fernando Fernán Gómez) who takes a special interest in his well-being.


La lengua de las mariposas warmly captures the trials and tribulations of being a young boy. Basically every kind of event that a young boy goes through during this time period occurs. In a way, it's a celebration of growing up and it's done in genuine fashion. Manuel Lozano does a great job as the ever inquisitive Moncho, which is a tall order for an nine year-old kid. It's not just any kid who could've done that as well as he did.

La lengua de las mariposas doesn't just offer a great look at growing up as a boy in 1930's Spain, it's also a great look at life in 1930's Spain for everyone. The mise-en-scène gets everything right, nailing every detail. There's also a big focus on music which is a nice touch for a movie like this.

In terms of addressing the Civil War, it kind of creeps up on you. There are little hints that are dropped now and then in terms of how the parents talk to Moncho which leaves the viewer trying to piece everything together. It's totally like being in Moncho's shoes. (Spoilers) Then before you know it, the Civil War starts and the effects are felt immediately. The ugly side of war (is there really a pretty side?) is shown in how people can disagree so vehemently that it culminates in people getting trucked off to face who knows what punishment. The final scenes between Moncho and Don Gregario are insanely powerful and heartbreaking. I wasn't expecting that at all and I was just floored. (End Spoilers)

What happens in terms of the Spanish Civil is what raises La lengua de las mariposas from being merely a good movie, to a great movie. The relationship between Moncho and Don Gregario is well built up and pays off as is shown in the conclusion. It's easy to see why this film was nominated for a very deserved Goya in 2000. 



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