Tuesday, March 10, 2020


Q: What is this kid so angry about? At whom is he grimacing, hurling stones and abuses?
A: His favourite teacher, Don Gregorio.

In between this question and its unlikely answer lies a story that has been poignantly told in Spanish movie "La lengua de las mariposas". Directed by José Luis Cuerda this 1999 movie is about a shy, asthmatic child named Moncho, growing up in a Gallician town in the 1930s.

This is a little town like any other, closely knit and insular and yet full of people with divergent political opinions. Moncho's own family is represents these different views - his mother is deeply religious and conservative while the father, a tailor, has leftist leanings. In the normal course this would have been just fine but these are fraught times, Spain is in turmoil and the country is about to plunge into a bloody civil war.

Moncho hates going to school. He hates being taunted for his clunky breathing apparatus, he is unable to make friends and prefers being alone. On his first day at school he gets upset about being called a 'sparrow' by his teacher, Don Gergorio, and runs away to the woods.

Gradually he warms up to the elderly Don's gentle humorous ways, his love for nature and learning. Even as young Moncho is learning about far away places in Australia, and of butterflies extract nectar from flowers with their spring-like proboscis - the espiritrompa.  Political disagreements are turning into something nastier.

The Republicans are on the ascendant and they have decided to get rid of the Nationalists. People are being hauled out of homes in the middle of the night, and Moncho's mother have come to realise that the only way to survive and hold the family together is to put up a display of support for the Republicans, even if it means that they have to betray friends.

As things come to a head the whole town assembles to condemn the Nationalists as they are being arrested and taken away. Don Gregorio is among them. The mother joins the chorus of abusers and urges her husband and children too to join the mob. The last scene has Moncho running after the truck carrying the prisoners, hurling stones and expletives - "Traitors! Communists! Espiritrompa!"

This film makes you wonder how many times such dilemmas would have played out in history - in Catholic Europe, amongst Zoroastrians in Persia conquered by the Arabs, in Nazi Germany, behind the Iron Curtain, and in pre-partition India...


* Preview - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYNyrPVTbIk
* Wiki - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly%27s_Tongue

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