Butterfly threatens to bake into the umpteenth tooth-decayingly sugary foreign film about a cute kid and a crotchety adult sidekick. And at times it does, particularly when Moncho (Manuel Lozano), a somber, Spock-eared boy who learns about courage and betrayal on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, gets his first glimpse of sex (a lusty couple goes at it in a barn), or whenever a reedy clarinet cues viewers to Pay Attention.
But eventually, José Luis Cuerda's adaptation of stories by Manuel Rivas diverges to become something quite powerfully unnerving and guilt-ridden, more Louis Malle than Roberto Benigni. Moncho pays close attention to the tensions between his republican father (Gonzalo Uriarte) and his conservative, Catholic mother (Uxia Blanco). He learns even more from a gentle schoolmaster (Fernando Fernan Gomez): by instruction, as when the patient teacher reveals the intricacies of the natural world; and by example, in how the elder holds to his principles. Children make moral choices, too, Cuerda eloquently shows, and the consequences echo for generations. B