Jul 5, 2000 at 12:00 am

For all the complaining indie film lovers do about the drought of substantive movies during the summer and the massive onslaught of plotless action flicks, films such as Butterfly will drive you out of the art house and into the multiplex cinema. It’s painful to say, but true.

For all its well-intentioned sensitivity and beautiful cinematography of 1930s Spain, Butterfly is not much more than a typical, slow-moving, sappy coming-of-age film that keeps you wondering when the cute central figure of the film will grow up and get laid. To the film’s credit, that doesn’t happen. Thankfully, it takes a bit more interesting twist at the conclusion, with politics and betrayal at its core instead of love and sex.

Director José Luis Cuerda was more than likely influenced by the success of Life Is Beautiful, which also has a cute kid drawing the audience in. But Life Is Beautiful had more of a plot, along with entertainment provided by Roberto Benigni.

Butterfly explores the world of a sleepy Spanish village on the verge of civil war through the eyes of a young boy who is slowly coming out of shyness since being made to go to school. With the assistance of his elderly teacher (Manual Lozano in a strong, moving performance), the boy (Fernando Fernán Gomez) is intrigued with learning about literature and nature. Because of his father, who is a member of an anti-fascist group, he is perplexed by the volatile political climate. And with the influence of a neighborhood friend, he is fascinated with the mating rituals of men and women.

As the film’s title implies, the boy is prodded out of his cocoon only to have his sweetness and innocence challenged before the reality of a cruel world. To be sure, the youth is absolutely adorable — in fact, there are moments where all you want to do is look at his face at the risk of missing the subtitles. But is that enough for you to sit through an entire movie that does little with the most significant aspect of its story line and goes off in too many lifeless directions? Not really.

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