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Laramie Movie Scope:
Alas de mariposa (Butterfly Wings)

Really depressing Spanish art flick

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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July 15, 2004 -- “Alas de mariposa” (Butterfly Wings) is an almost ridiculously artistic film with a tragic story from Spanish director Juanma Bajo Ulloa. This film is imbued with the notion that films are not meant to be entertaining, but to make you, the audience, suffer for the sake of the artist. Each reel of the film drips with more human misery than the first. It would be nice if you could dismiss the absurdly tragic plot elements as arbitrary, like the similar ones in “American Beauty,” but the script is actually pretty logical and well-written. Well, you can't have everything.

Our story begins with a happy little nuclear family of the father, Gabriel (Fernando Valverde), mother, Carmen (Silvia Munt) and child, Ami (Susana García Díez). Then there's the old man, Carmen's father, his face frozen in a sour expression. He is dissatisfied with Ami because he wants Carmen to have a son to carry on the family name. He endlessly taps out his disappointment with his long phallic symbol of a cane. Gabriel is happy with Ami. His attitude is, if God wants us to have a boy, we'll have one. Ami, with her big, luminous blue eyes, is a budding artist, fascinated with butterfly wings. Try as she might, she can't get them right. In the best of circumstances, her parents would nurture this bright, talented child and she would grow up to be a successful artist, maybe even a rich and famous one, the pride of her family. But you have already guessed this won't happen.

Carmen and her father are obsessed with having a boy, and finally, she gets one. Things go downhill from there, with murder, rape and mayhem wrecking the family. It all starts with a little thing, Carmen being uncommonly modest about breast feeding (she's not at all good with multi-tasking). Carmen becomes obsessed with the baby boy and turns cold toward Ami. The end result is a broken, dysfunctional family, its members incapacitated by injury or mental illness. The film has a lot to say about a male-dominated society which is unable to cope with any aspect of sexuality in a healthy way. The end of the film is truly strange and kinky. The symbolism of bugs, worms, butterflies (Ami being a figurative butterfly who turns back into a caterpillar), long, hard canes, and pictures of Christ, is so heavy-handed it is funny. In fact, the whole film is funny in a macabre way because it is so heavily overstated in its message about sexual equality.

One of the odd things about the story is that Gabriel, the family's soul provider, is a garbage collector. Despite that, the family lives in a very nice multi-roomed apartment. Maybe garbage men in Spain are unionized or something. Although there are a few outdoor scenes, most of the film takes place in the claustrophobic cramped corners of the apartment. This plays into the film's theme of isolation and tragic destiny. I can't really say it is a bad film. It is just not my cup of tea. I never really bought into the destiny idea. I'm more of a free will kind of guy. I also don't like to be clubbed over the head with symbolism. I also don't like to suffer for someone else's idea of art. I pay my money like the next person and expect entertainment value for it. This film rates a C+, mostly for its unintended humor, and the fact that I got in to see this one for free. Note: The version of this film I saw was a well-worn 35mm print, with a Spanish soundtrack and English and Arabic subtitles, shown at the Wyo Theatre in Laramie on July 14, 2004.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)