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Ferrua, Pietro

Butterfly (La lengua de las mariposas)

A Film by José Luis Cuerda

Friday 29 August 2003

Manuel Lozano and Fernando Fernan Gomez


color, 96 mn.

In Spanish with English subtitles.







CAST: Fernando Fernán Gómez (Don Gregorio), Manuel LOZANO (El gorrión).

This is one of the rare films whose anarchist protagonist is portrayed as a completely positive character. Unlike his counterparts in a few similar films (such as, Libera amore mio by Bolognini), the character here, Don Gregorio, is not someone trying to convert other people to his beliefs through propaganda or actions. Rather he is an educator, not merely a pedagogist, but a schoolmaster who practices Francisco Ferrer’s rationalist teaching method without even mentioning Ferrer. His lessons, in a Galician village grade school are a wise mixture of humanistic disciplines (in which poetry and history merge harmoniously) with an in-depth look at science and the study of biology, entomology and botany in natural surroundings. But the greatest lesson that Don Gregorio teaches is humanity. He loves his vocation so much that it becomes an apostolate and he loves his pupils, whatever their social condition or intellectual capacity. He gives to them his time, his patience, and his knowledge.

The plot of the film revolves around Don Gregorio and Moncho (called “El gorrión” = the sparrow) a boy who because he suffers severe asthma, has lost some schooling and is a latecomer to his class, whom he protects and cherish all along. He even saves his life and, out of gratitude, the boy’s father, (a tailor) , sews a suit for Don Gregorio (whose only suit was damaged by the river’s water during the rescue operation.

Don Gregorio’s age of retirement arrives and there is a ceremony in his honor held at the Town Hall (the Mayor, incidentally, is a Republican) and Moncho is sad because he may lose his mentor and friend. But Don Gregorio, who is a widower and lives alone, reassures him: he will have even more time to spend with him. Also, with the recently acquired microscope they finally will be able to see the tongue of the butterflies (hence the film’s title ).

All this happens in the middle of the 1930’s, at a time of turmoil in Spain, dilacerated by internecine struggles first between monarchists and republicans, then between republicans and Francoists . We witness the proclamation of the Republic, Franco’s putsch, and the revolutionary parenthesis. All these events are filtered and remain in the background. It is only at the very end of the film that political antagonisms and hate are revealed, when Francoist troops have prevailed and they arrest all opponents. One certain morning they are all loaded in a truck and it is assumed that they will be executed, with the blessing of the priest (historically, the Church sided with Franco and only a few members of the Basque and Catalan clergy were also slaughtered) while the crowd insults them: “Assassins!”.” Faggots”! “Sons of bitches!” “Anarchists!”

The parents of Moncho yell back at the subversives (his father needs to shout louder than the others to be forgiven for having voted for Manuel Azaña, who represented the Republic). They even scream at their benefactor, Don Gregorio, the last one to appear in the group of arrested people. Unexpectedly, his favorite pupil is neither shocked nor moved. Pressured by the multitude, Moncho starts himself insulting his old mentor and friend by calling him: “atheist!”.”red!”

Don Gregorio, magnificently interpreted by the famous Peruvian actor Fernando Fernán Gómez, is flabbergasted that he was abandoned and betrayed by his best friend. He approaches his ultimate fate, sacrificing himself without understanding what is happening to Humanity.

This is a powerful film with a very solid script that reflects the moral, political, and psychological situation in Spain after the fall of the Republic, with an aftermath of revenge and repression that lasted almost 40 years more.

Pietro Ferrua