Brimming with heartfelt emotion, Léa Pool’s “The Blue Butterfly” shows the beauty of the majestic rain forest and its smallest inhabitants with a humanist touch. It introduces us to a wide array of colorful insects with an entomologist’s passion while going beyond that showcase. It’s a story about the magic of one child’s dreams and the bonds that form along a journey that is part adventure, part intimate drama.
Shot in Costa Rica and Montreal, the film opens in our city’s Insectarium (founder Georges Brossard was a consultant) where renowned entomologist Alan Osborne (William Hurt) says a few words of thanks as his work is honored in an exhibition. 10 year-old Pete (Marc Donato), who’s wheelchair-bound and suffering from brain cancer, is there with his mom Teresa (Pascale Bussières).
Doctors have given Pete three to six months to live. His room is a mini-shrine to all sorts of insects and butterflies, and to him Osborne is the coolest guy in the world. Without any trace of shyness, the boy asks Osborne to take him to the jungle to catch the elusive Blue Morpho, a butterfly which has come to represent all things worthwhile to Pete.
After initial reluctance about not being good with kids and Morpho season being practically over, Osborne accepts. And so we follow Osborne, Pete, Teresa and a few locals in their efforts to track the creature, to the lively and moody rhythms of the rain forest. The captivating music and Pierre Mignot’s cinematography give us a great feel for the wild environment, making it come alive or showing how the jungle’s density can also be suffocating at times.
At one point Alan, baffled by Pete’s calm in the face of a repeated lack of success in their hunt, asks him whether he ever gets mad, being a kid who’s been told he will probably die soon. “I’m just not a mad kind of person”, Pete replies softly.
Not all has been rosy in Alan’s life. We learn he has a daughter he abandoned to her mom when she was a baby 17 years before. We sense perhaps an emotional gap has been bridged in Alan’s character by being in contact with a boy who is so resolute to catch a specific butterfly. I’m not sure how much of a father figure we can read into Alan as it relates to Pete, who lost his dad in a car accident, but what is made certain is that both gain from their jungle interactions.
Part of Pete’s journey in learning that life is more than the pursuit of a single butterfly involves Alan suffering an injury that could be viewed as an artificially created plot element, but the charmingly understated manner in which a local girl’s of Pete’s age tries to teach him the same message more than counters it.
Pool is not afraid to let the camera linger on her cast to get the full measure of a warm smile, a contemplative look or something as seemingly simple as gently holding a hand. Pascale Bussières gives a wonderful performance in that regard, with the only scene clashing in tone from the rest of the movie is a temper tantrum she throws as the group has to cross a swamp.
“The Blue Butterfly” is a tale about the magic of dreams and the nobility of believing in them. It was inspired by a true story: in 1987, granting the wish of a 7 year-old with terminal cancer, Brossard took him butterfly hunting in Central America. When they returned, the cancer was in remission and the young man has since defeated the illness. Independently of this, or in light of it, the film is a moving experience of poetic beauty.
Review by J-F Tremblay