The Butterfly

on December 19, 2003 by Kim Williamson
As one watches this Parisian tale of a curmudgeonly old entomologist, Julien ("Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud's" Michel Serrault), whose only friends are the butterflies he chloroforms in his apartment lab, and the freckle-faced and resourceful Elsa (newcomer Claire Bouanich), whose only relation is the young single mother ("Notre Musique's" Nade Dieu) who often abandons her while off on trysts, one just knows that the world-wearied and the world-searching characters are going to warm to each other through some sort of adventure. And adventure there is, as Julien heads off to the Alps to capture a rare species, only to find Elsa, another rare species, as a stowaway.

So, given that the storyline is transparent, why does the film (released in France as "Le Papillon") work so well? As the man behind the fable, writer/director Phillippe Muyl ("Cuisine et Dependances") favors a still camera, lest too much movement startle his fragile narrative into flight. The result: The unyielding lens catches even the smallest moments of yielding as the two humans, one so young and one so old, one so eager and one so broken, come to appreciate each other. With his wrinkled visage, broken nose, Hemingway beard and garrumphing voice, Serrault makes for an atypical, yet eventually perfect, grandfather figure. As for Bouanich, whose assured presence recalls the young Anna Paquin in "The Piano," she is a winsome wonderment, with her moon face, intent eyes and peaceful composure hardly seeming right for the role, yet likewise perfect in the end. Starring Michel Serrault and Claire Bouanich. Directed and written by Phillippe Muyl. Produced by Patrick Godeau. A First Run release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 79 min

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