12 May 2006 | lapetrov
Innocence lost to knowledge, freedom destroyed by tradition
I've been watching a lot of films in Spanish lately, trying to prepare for a course I will be teaching on Love in Hispanic Cinema. I'm searching for the film I can show that will exemplify love of country... and while I don't think this is the one I'm looking for, it may work insofar as the "love of Spain" expressed resonates with the same propagandistic tones similar expressions of "patriotism" so often do.
I won't bore you with the basics of plot nor repeat what everyone else has already said as you can read the intro and a hand-full of other posts and know enough. I will tell you that this is a subtle film. We in the US are so used to being hit over the head by our movies that watching this film is like feeling a soft breeze. It's oh so quietly disquieting.
I have found interesting the posts reviewing this film that criticize the "meanderings" of the plot --how far the dispersed elements take us away from the core message. But I ask, what is not childhood but a collection of fascinating and disconnected pieces of a puzzle that we can't put together quite yet. Music, love, family, sex, food, school, friends, women and girls, books, nature, teachers and grown men -all equally interesting and engaging to a young boy. But when he's all of maybe seven, what does he know about how they all relate to each other? What do any of us really know about how all the pieces of our lives fit together, or what they mean?
I especially enjoyed the sad quality of all the varied losses interwoven in the greater story; they tempered the otherwise hopeful mood of the film. The overall effect on me was that I understood that loss is comprised not only of one deep cut but of a thousand little ones too. It wasn't only the dream of a Republican and free Spain that was lost; it was much more that was lost as well.
The film-making here is exquisite too, like a butterfly, so beautiful visually; "La lengua de las mariposas" is so well executed that it truly feels real. There were no moments when I said to myself "oh, come on," as I do when I feel I've been taken for too stupid to figure things out for myself, when everything has been made too obvious, predigested for me by the movie makers.
Amazingly the child actor is believable at all times -never too precocious, never too coy. An excellent performance from a child actor is always a delight. See the Argentine film "Valentin" (2002) for another.
Others write that the ending is shocking, too abrupt and that the audience is neither prepared for it nor guided towards it. For me that is the perfect ending because it replicates the shock of the civil war to the Spaniards, and the shock adult violence inflicts upon childhood. For me, the abrupt ending was the radical interruption traditional Spain forced upon everyone's future. Never mind, as one post suggested that in Republican Spain the communists had taken over and democracy was no longer in effect. Democracy here is the exotic Chinese beauty Andrés falls in love with, a fantasy out of reach, silenced and taken hostage by a brute.
See this film and decide for yourself.