The Elephant And The Butterfly

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Lina Doillon as Elsa and Thomas Blanchard as Antoine in The Elephant And The Butterfly
"Doillon is wonderfully adept and natural, and it's really her performance that makes the film compelling." | Photo: Eric Gautier

Can a big, lonely elephant and a beautiful but delicate little butterfly be friends? That's the question posed in a storybook belonging to five-year-old Elsa (Lina Doillon), which she loves to have read to her. She knows the ending, of course, but the trick is to have fun along the way. She knows a lot of things and when she doesn't, she a good guesser.

Elsa's mother Camille (Judith Chemla) is always busy. It's not easy holding down a senior professional role and raising a child single-handedly at the same time. When Elsa's childcare falls through at a particularly difficult time, she resorts to calling ex-boyfriend Antoine (Thomas Blanchard) to see if he can help out. He's Elsa's father but Elsa doesn't know it. When other events intercede and what was supposed to be just an hour together turns into more than a day, Antoine and Elsa form a bond that neither of them expected - a friendship that seems set to transform the lives of everyone around them, whether they like it or not.

It's a simple tale but as with the storybook, the magic is in the telling. The production design in terrific, immediately presenting us with the details of Camille and Elsa's intersecting lives and putting across their distinct personalities. Later we see Antoine's home and can immediately observe the different priorities that may have contributed to the breakdown of that relationship. To Elsa, exploring new places is always an adventure - a little bit scary but a safe thing to do with a friend. These are the first steps in claiming her own independence and coincide with attempts to resist her mother's authority. Her world is beginning to expand and she needs to process that on her own terms; she does that with a presence of mind that will ultimately force Camille to give ground.

Much of what we see in this film is seen with a child's eyes; there's a constant sense of the thrill of discovery. Doillon is wonderfully adept and natural, and it's really her performance that makes the film compelling. Blanchard is hampered a bit as an actor by the fact that Antoine is disguising his more complex emotions when speaking to the child, but nevertheless manages to show us his progression from an old friend doing a favour to a man who will cling to this new existence for as long as he can.

Beautifully shot and lit in a way that brings out all the richness of detail Elsa sees in the world, this is a beautiful piece of filmmaking. It's gentle, leisurely and likely to melt the hardest of hearts.

Reviewed on: 27 Feb 2019
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The Elephant And The Butterfly packshot
When her babysitter doesn’t show, a single mother is forced to leave her precocious five-year-old daughter with the girl’s estranged father for a long weekend.


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