La Lengua de las Mariposas
Directed by Jose Luis Cuerda in 1999, La Lengua de las Mariposas is a divine piece of cinematic exploration with a political edge that fuses brilliantly with the tender relationship between a teacher and a student during the year 1936. The film is often described as a coming-of-age film, as the main character, Moncho, whose life is constantly interrupted by the problems brought by the Civil War going on in the country.
The film is based on three short stories from the book ¿Qué me quieres, amor? (1996) written by the Galician author Manuel Rivas: La lengua de las mariposas, Un saxo en la niebla and Carmiña. The majority of the plot is based on La Lengua de las mariposas, to which various elements of the stories of the other two short stories are added, linked together through the main character, Moncho.
It follows Moncho, a typical child growing up in 1936 in the northern Spanish region of Galicia. The film shows the developments in his childhood, which is abruptly changed with the fragile situation of the Spanish Civil War. At the beginning, Moncho is afraid of going to school because he has heard that the teachers hit the children. However, when he finally gets to school, he finds out that this is not the case, and that his teacher, Don Gregorio is actually really nice.
Don Gregorio likes to teach by experience and observation, and the two form a close relationship in which they both learn from the other. Moncho is inspired by his teacher, and picks up a number of great words, including the word 'espiritrompa' which is the Spanish word for the tongue of the butterfly. The teacher also spends a lot of time talking about liberty and freedom, something which indicates his Republican ideology.
As with many of the best things in the world, the great relationship between Moncho and Don Gregorio cannot last. As the fascists win the Civil War and begin to impose their ideologies on Spain, their Galician town becomes the scene of a round up of Republican supporters, including Don Gregorio. As Moncho's father is a Republican, for the safety of the family they need to take action. But what is the right course of action- staying true to your beliefs or making sacrifices for your family and their safety?
Reception and Legacy
La Lengua de las mariposas was met with huge critical acclaim for its strong message which is delivered in a subtle manner. The political theme of the film is present and forms a large part of the story, however it is never over the top. Instead it is a truly intriguing portrayal of life in Spain at that tense part of time.
The underlying message of La Lengua de las mariposas is one of defending the freedom of expression, the importance of one's own experience as a way of gaining knowledge, culture as a path to personal freedom and observation as a way of awakening the senses. It also tries to break some of the taboos surrounding an efficient education, focusing instead on this education through experience.
Another area of praise for the film was for the portrayal of Moncho, the young boy. Unlike many mainstream films, particularly from the US, the boy was not portrayed in a cute and exaggerated manner, but rather a more real and believable depiction of childhood. For his performance, the young Manuel Lozano was nominated for a number of awards including the Goya for the Best New Actor, the Prize for the Best Actor at both the Festival of Estepona and Cartagena, and the Prize for Best Actor in a Foreign Film by the Young Artist Awards in California.
The theme of childhood as well makes a large impact on the film, particularly with the inclusion of a large number of topics. The movie contains scenes that deal with family, love, men, women, war and nature, which seem to meander away from the main story, in a style similar to that of how we experience childhood. All of these elements are present in Moncho's life but he has not yet worked out how they all fit together.
The movie was extremely successful in Spain, and as a result, was nominated for 13 Goya awards in 2000, including the awards for Best Picture and Best Director. La Lengua de las mariposas eventually won the Goya for the Best Adapted Screenplay for the adaptation of Manuel Rivas' short stories.