The tale of The Elephant and the Butterfly
by Fabien Lemercier
- Amelie van Elmbt delicately depicts the nuances of a three-day reunion between a young child and her unknown father
Spotted in 2012 with Headfirst [+see also:
film profile], a film that was almost entirely self-financed before being selected at Cannes by ACID, as well as being nominated for the debut feature Lumière award in 2014 (which attracted the attention of Martin Scorsese), Belgian filmmaker Amelie van Elmbt confirms her originality and sensitivity with her second feature, The Elephant and the Butterfly [+see also:
interview: Amélie van Elmbt
film profile], a Dardenne brothers production, which has just been screened in the European Discoveries section at the 18th Arras Film Festival after winning two awards at Namur.
The young director definitely has a sense of adventure about her, and is certainly not one for hiding behind artificial narrative twists, preferring instead to dive head first into the realm of naturalism dominated by glances and gestures, gentleness and sobriety. A committed stance that is even riskier due to the fact that her new film relies on the meeting of a man and a five-year-old girl, shown through the banality of everyday life. Despite the fact that their meeting is exceptional and a veil of unspoken words hovers over them, slowly weaving itself between the two characters, the filmmaker makes little mystery of the ins and outs of the situation, preferring instead to focus on the heart of the story through the observation of the almost imperceptible touches of their exchanges.
When Antoine (Thomas Blanchard) rings Camille's doorbell (Judith Chemla) she is waiting impatiently for the babysitter to arrive for her daughter Elsa (Lina Doillon) and is so surprised to see him that after a few silent glances the young woman slams the door in his face. But the urgency of needing to set off for a major business trip forces Camille to change her mind and she leaves Elsa with Antoine after running after him in the street and presenting him to Elsa as "one of mummy’s friends" ("he will take care of you until Olga arrives"). With the nanny yet to make an appearance, the young man must take care of the little girl, playing with her and her tricycle before taking her along with him (thanks to her mother's car) to settle a small familial matter. On the way back, the improbable duo realises that the keys are locked inside the house. Antoine takes Elsa back to his house, which Camille really does not like, informing him on the phone that ("you think you can just turn up like that and I'll leave Elsa with you") and demanding that Antoine take Elsa to her grandmother's house the next day. But the man and the little girl have slowly started to get to know and win each other over, and they're not done yet, fondly dancing around the open secret that connects them, slowly causing the masks to drop...
The Elephant and the Butterfly explores the concepts of nature, family, paternal and daughterly love, transmission, protective instincts, intuition, the suggestiveness of the imagination and the invisible wounds of the past in great detail, under the pretence of a very simple concept. It’s thanks to the extreme finesse with which the imperceptible variations of the balance of reality are captured, along with the quality of the direction of the actors and the sensitive agility of the director of photography, Eric Gautier, that Amelie van Elmbt directs a feature that is full of charm, and which skilfully and absolutely rejects the concept of dramatisation. And if this style, which could be described as impressionist under the guise of realism, leaves some audience members feeling somewhat unmoved, it is without doubt that they are lacking children or childhood in their lives, and that they have probably forgotten that the best tales (like that of the elephant and butterfly that we hear in the film) are often the purest.
(Translated from French)
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