Julien (Michel Serrault) is a bitter old man in the midst of an emotional desert. His collection of butterflies constitutes his sole passion. One day, he makes his new little neighbor's acquaintance, Elsa (Claire Bouanich), visibly neglected by her mother but looks unfavorably on her intrusion in his life. One day, he's going to the Alps to try to find a rare species of butterfly, the Isabelle and for his greatest pleasure, Elsa invited herself to the trip...
If you ever want to spend an evening in front of a DVD and if you search for originality, then this Philippe Muyl's flick hasn't your name on it. How many times have we seen the eternal recipe of a friendship story between a grumpy old man and a little girl as fresh as a daisy? Making Julien and Elsa go into the Alps to try to discover the Isabelle is a pretext to bring them together and make them know each other. At first, it's hostility. At the end, complicity prevails. Between the two poles, a scheduled psychological evolution. In short, on the surface "the Butterfly" (2002) smells the reheated. However, although Muyl has limited talents as a film-maker (the success of "Cooking and Dependences" 1993 is to be attributed to the tandem Jean-Pierre Bacri/Agnès Jaoui), there's something warm in his work. The presence of the little Claire Bouanich is partly responsible of it. She's so gorgeous of freshness and spontaneity that it would take a heart of stone to resist her. Definitely no Shirley Temple. She sees in Julien, the grandfather she would have liked to have and especially an experienced person to take care of her. Getting in contact with him, she learns life with its joys and sorrows and her hill-walking is rich in learning lessons so that it's nearly an initiatory travel for her. Beside her, Michel Serrault is excellent as usual.
Tenderness for his two main characters, preposterous explications but adapted to a child's faculties of understanding to bring touches of humor (did you know that shooting stars are locks of hair God loses?). Philippe Muyl mixes these two things and by letting oneself slip into this touching story, one just has to be charmed along the way and the work is done. And it works rather well. There's a feel-good factor that dominates our minds throughout the projection and sometimes it's comforting to feel this. Moreover, the wild beauty of the Alpin countryside is highlighted to add a decent amount of poetry.
But probably to avoid a break of tone, the director erased as much as possible dramatic sides of the story, particularly the hateful misunderstanding according which Julien is suspected to have kidnapped Elsa when she left of her own free will. During the time the two protagonists are in the mountains, this point is taken to the back seat and after Elsa fell into the hole and help rescue her, Julien is taken to the police station but we can watch him leaving it rather freely without any trouble. Philippe Muyl glossed over this point. Fortunately, that doesn't muck up the bliss of the projection but beware Mr Muyl! You came close to disaster! At the end of the road, the most cynical ones will only probably see a simpering flick without any real depth and tailor made to furnish an evening in front of the telly. As for the others: if you are sick of watching violent or bloody movies à la "Kill Bill" (2003/2004), why not having a break with this certainly stereotyped product but so cute which surfs on the wave of unexpected popular movies like "une hirondelle a fait le printemps" (2001) through the simple philosophy it brings out: earth connection, a return to the basic pleasures of life.