Cinergía Movie File:

Butterfly (La lengua de la mariposa)

Directed by José Luis Cuerda, 1999


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Written and compiled by Katie Craig, Deanna Kohrs and Edwin Úbeda


Scroll down or Click on any section to jump ahead:

Section 1: Pre-screening

Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism

    Section 3: Media analysis

Section 1: Pre-screening  

Part I: Background to Butterfly

Note: Given the transitory nature of internet resources we suggest conducting a search to help answer the pre-screening questions.  Only a few links are included below.


1.       A Desperate Democracy Disregarded

(English)  This site explains how the aid that Franco received from countries such as Germany and Italy helped him win the war.  It also explains why the U.S., France and Britain remained neutral and how this led to the Republic’s demise. Throughout this document we can see that without military support, the Republic had no chance of achieving victory.

  1. El triunfo de la libertad: Las colectividades anarquistas campesinas durante la Guerra Civil Española.

(Español) This website provides a historical panorama of the Anarchist party during the Spanish Civil War.  Through the anarchist point of view, from the Congreso de Unificación Anarco-Comunista (Chile), we see the party’s roles during the revolution in the Spanish Civil War.  In the movie Ramón expresses his support to the Anarchist party before the end of the movie. This site explains the significance of the party during the revolution.


3.       Free Women of Spain

Women benefited from various social reforms throughout the 1920’s and 30’s, which came to an end when Franco rose to power. In the movie we see a glimpse of the traditional woman, for example, the character of Rosa, as well as the liberal woman, the daughter of Ramón.

4.       España Siglo XX

(Spanish) Compiled by J.Á. Conca Pardo, this detailed site focuses on ‘Franquismo’ and the transition after Franco's death.  It provides a superb history of both sides of the war and supplies links to explanations of the communist party (PCE) and the socialist party (PSOE). This site shows the ramifications of Franco's reign in comparison to what was portrayed in the movie before Franco came to power.


(English) Compiled by Bob Cordery, this website gives a brief chronological order beginning with the events of July 17, 1936 (the beginning of the war) until April 1, 1939 (the end of the war).  Once again, in relevance to the movie this site gives dates and short facts that were briefly viewed in the movie.

  1. Essays on the Spanish Civil War

(English) This site provides information written by Albert Weisbord, who was interested in class struggles and became an active organizer in the communist party throughout his life during the 1920's. He wrote many essays on the Spanish Civil War.  His foundation has posted a collection of the essays on the Spanish Civil War, which are relevant to the movie because they represent the class struggles that the Spanish people faced.

  1. La Guerra Civil Española 1936-1939

(Spanish) This page is compiled by Manuel Sanromà.  In this site we find a list of topics that present texts published about the war, a chronology of the war, protagonists in the war from A to Z, as well as other sources. This website also contains a variety of sources that pertain to the many historical events that occurred during the Spanish Civil War. In relevance to the movie, this site shows historical events and its participants.

  1. Plot and summary of “Lengua de las mariposas

 Lengua de las mariposas, La (1999)

(English) This site provides an overview of the cast, the year it was produced, a plot summary of the movie, as well as a list of the production and distribution companies. It also provides a brief analysis of the film.


  1. Movie Review Query Engine

(English) This page compiled by Stewart M. Clamen. 2001.  Query Engine provides an extensive and detailed list of critics who have reviewed the movie. The list provides prominent critiques from newspapers such as the Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert), BBC films and the Washington Post. All these critiques give us various perspectives about the movie and its time and place in history.

Part II:  Pre-screening questions

1.       What was the Second Republic and how long did it last?

2.       Who was Manuel Azaña?

3.       Describe several of the unique problems that the Second Republic faced within its government.

4.       What were some of the educational reforms that the Second Republic implemented?

5.       Who benefited from the Second Republic?

6.       What were some of the achievements that woman accomplished during the war?

7.       Before the war, Spain was predominantly considered an agrarian country, in what regions were most of the industries found in Spain during the 1930's?

8.       Why did the Spanish Republic face opposition, and who were the people that made a commitment to combat fascism? 

9.       Which institution supported the conservative tradition in the Spanish society prior to the war?

10.   When did the military uprising begin, where and who was it lead by?

11.   In which way did the fascist uprising change the lives of Republicans after the military uprising?

12.   How many years did the civil war last, and what was its final outcome?


Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism  

Section 2:  Film Comprehension and Criticism


   Part I.  Comprehension Questions 

1.       In what time period is the movie set?  What is the importance of this period in Spain’s history?

2.       What is the film’s setting?  How does the film represent the town?  Why is this region important at this time in Spain’s history? 

3.       What is the theme of the film?  Does it seem to accurately represent historical events? 

4.       Who are the main characters and how would you describe each one?

5.       What at the professions of the main characters?  What do theses professions symbolize?

6.       What type of teacher is don Gregorio?  How does Moncho react to his teacher throughout the film?

7.       How does the film represent the division of classes in Spain during this time?

8.       How does the film depict the two ideologies in Spain at the time?  What does the contrast between Ramón and Rosa represent?

9.       Compare and contrast don Gregorio and the town priest. 

10.   Compare and contrast the film’s depiction of religion and science.

11.   What does the comparison of the youthful and older generation throughout the film signify? 

12.   This is a ‘coming of age’ film for Moncho.  Compare and contrast that which Moncho learns inside and outside the classroom.  Who are his teachers?  What do they teach him?

13.   What is the role of women at this time?  Compare and contrast Rosa, Carmiña and the Asian girl.

14.   What is the significance of the last scene?  Is there more than one interpretation?    

15.   What was Moncho’s last lesson?  What is the importance of his loss of innocence?

Part II.  Historical Accuracy 


The following quotes come from:  Esenwein, George and Adrian Shubert.  Spain at War.  New York:  Pearson Education Inc., 1995. 



butterfly02.jpg (9340 bytes)

·         “The disparate republican forces had begun a process or expansion and cohesion in 1926 which was completed on 17 August 1930 with the signing of the so-called Pact of San Sebastián.  At the meeting representatives of seven Republican parties agreed to set up a Republic with autonomy for Catalonia, Galicia, and the Basque Provinces so long as it was consonant with ‘the liberal and democratic spirit of the revolution’ (8).

·         “The Provisional Government remained in office after the elections more than anything else because there was no feasible alternative...a new cabinet headed by Azaña, including the remaining members of the coalition saw the Constitution through to the final two months of debate.  The document (Constitution) which was approved by the Cortes on 9 December 1931 declared Spain to be a ‘Republic of workers of all categories’ with the separation of Church and state and all education to be controlled by the state.  The right to hold private property was not absolute as property could be expropriated with indemnity, for reasons of social utility.  The possibility of regional autonomy was recognized.  Spain was at least on paper, ‘a thoroughly democratic, laic and potentially decentralized republic.’  Once the Constitution had been approved Alcalá Zamora was elected the Republic’s first President.  Azaña remained Prime Minister, a position he would hold until September 1933” (11-12). 

·         “In October 1931 Prime Minister Manuel Azaña outraged Catholic opinion when he told the Cortes that ‘Spain was no longer Catholic.’  For all the furor his remark provoked it was not inaccurate; that millions of Spaniards wanted nothing to do with the Church was recognized even by the clergymen” (37).

·         “The Provisional Government and the government led by Manuel Azaña acted in a number of ways to circumscribe the role and activities of the Church to a degree unprecedented in the country’s history.  On 6 May 1931 the Provisional Government issued a decree ending compulsory religious education; on 21 May it required that all elementary school teachers have a university education, a measure which most affected the nuns who taught in Church schools; and the next day it announced freedom of religion” (44)

·         “ was Azaña who once again best expressed the meaning of the Popular Front: ‘Ours will not be a Socialist nor Communist mandate but a Republican mandate’...the Popular Front won a narrow victory 16 February 1936” (27-8).

·         “(July 1936) From the very beginning (of the rebellious uprising) it was evident that the rebelling segments of the army could not rely on popular support, which, in the event, was confined to certain cities and regions known for their traditionalism” (104).


1.       How has the film helped you better understand the Republic?

2.       How do the characters represent the ideological differences between the Church and the Spanish people?

3.       Are there examples of regionalism?  Why is it important that the film takes place in Galicia?

4.       How does the film represent the separation between Church and State?  Analyze Moncho’s fear of school.  Why is this fear significant?

5.       The Republic ends ‘compulsory religious education.’  What does this mean for the Church?

6.       Does the Church have a lot of power in Moncho’s town?  How does don Gregorio teach religion in his classroom?

7.       Are there examples of the Church’s weakened power?

8.       How does the film represent the education of boys versus girls?  Is this representation correct for the time period?

9.       Which political party does Ramón support?  How do this affect Ramón’s interactions with Rosa?  

10.   The film ends at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.  How does the uprising change people of the town?  How does the outbreak of war affect Moncho’s family?

11.  Was there a resistance to the uprising in Moncho’s town?


Section 3: Media analysis  

Part I:  Still Analysis

The lesson

This still is the culmination of the fight for control between religion and science; conservatives and liberals; Nationalists and Republicans.  The faces and shoulders of don Gregorio and the priest are illuminated indicating the use of fill light.  The strong lighting highlights the desire for control of both religion and science.  The closed frame, seals the scene in order to focus on the three characters that form a triangle of the wise older generation and the naïve youth.  The deep focus utilized in this still emphasizes the equal importance of religion, science, and youth; with the presence of the priest, don Gregorio, and Moncho respectively.  The low-angle shot of the camera gives more importance to the wiser older generation y the camera view is from the perspective of the adult’s in the still.  At this moment Moncho is wrapped up in the adult world in which he does no participate, he only observes.  This still is seen in a medium shot in order to allow a view of the gestures of the characters.  Don Gregorio’s one hand is closed, in show of protection and power.  Don Gregorio’s gesture is more open; while the priest’s fingers are entwined in a closed, authoritarian, and pious gesture, united against danger.  The hands are seen on top of Moncho’s shoulders, as if there were the devil and the angel whispering in his ears.  Also, the hats that the adult characters are wearing demonstrate their differing ideologies.  Don Gregorio is wearing a typical Galician hat; differing from the white hat he wears in other scenes.  The priest’s hat represents his status in the town and is indicative of the distance between the townspeople and the clergy at this time in Spain. 

In this scene the priest is showing the teacher Moncho’s lost interest in becoming an altar boy.  Moncho is in the lower portion of the frame with his head bowed and shoulders shrugged, shameful of his inability to recite his Latin lessons. Here it is evident that Moncho remains tied to his religion because he stands a bit closer to the priest.  Throughout the film Moncho is stuck between the two ideologies.  This still demonstrates the Church’s resentment because the Republic has weakened their influence, taking away ‘compulsory religious education.’  


The discovery

With their concentrated attention and curiosity directed towards the symbolic butterfly positioned in the center of the still, Don Gregorio, Moncho and Roque contemplate the wonders of nature and science in this closed frame shot that emphasizes the reformed educational system under the Second Republic.  The triangular formation of the three characters depicted in deep focus in this medium shot captures the immediate attention of the viewer.  The low-angle shot stresses the influential, essential role of the republican teacher, Don Gregorio, captured in the center of the still, while the camera positioned at the level of the young boys gives the viewer the sensation of participating in the scene.  Don Gregorio is wearing a white hat, symbolic of the Republic’s liberty, as well as the tailored suit given to him by Moncho’s liberal father.  The natural, overhead light radiating from the sun positioned in the center of the frame illuminates the heads and shoulders of the characters, giving importance to this essential moment that epitomizes the title of the film, The Butterfly’s Tongue.

It is as if this scene symbolizes the fundamental desire to raise and educate a young, free generation of Spaniards under the Republic.  The softened focus of the trees and sky in the background draw attention to the foreground of the still, emphasizing the important lesson pertaining to the abstract knowledge of the butterfly’s tongue, an appendage invisible to the naked eye.  It’s also interesting how the angle of Don Gregorio’s head is directed towards that of Moncho’s, stressing that the two of them are the principal protagonists of the film.  Although one cannot see the butterfly’s tongue nor the liberty rolled up in the butterfly, this frame accentuates the need to have faith in the truth.                   

The temptation

Symbolically, this close-up shot clearly portrays the ideological conflict between science and religion.  The two protagonists, Don Gregorio and Moncho, are depicted in the garden (symbolic of the Adam and Eve) with shadowed faces due to the natural light radiating from the sun in the left side of the frame.  The shadow on the two main characters accentuates the loss of innocence as Moncho bites the apple that symbolically represents either the first sin, or on the contrary, the thirst for knowledge and intellect.  The camera angle shows the perspective of Don Gregorio, emphasizing this important moment that solely focuses deeply on Moncho’s action and the central segment of leaves in the still. 

Throughout the movie, it is as if Moncho were thrust between two ideological camps of thought, because while his mother and the priest believed in the religious division of heaven and hell, his father and Don Gregorio represented atheist republicans. In this moment that proceeds the funeral of Carmiña’s mother (his father’s half daughter), Moncho asks Don Gregorio, “When one dies….do you die or don’t you die?” When Don Gregorio shares his secret that internal hell doesn’t exist; that true hell is hate, it is as if the movie clearly represents the anticlerical tendencies that the conservatives feared.    


The division

With the wooden column in the center of the kitchen dividing the still in half, this closed frame shot clearly depicts the ideological division present in the family of the young protagonist Moncho.  The two light sources in this chiaroscuro scene accentuate the dichotomy between the two timid characters, Rosa and Ramon.  The camera is positioned at the level of the two adults, while depicting the view of Moncho watching this potent interaction from a distance.  The principal light source emanates from the right, partially illuminating the republican father and the back walls, while Ramon’s left side (symbolically the liberal side!) remains in shadow.  In addition to the lighting effects, the father’s slumped posture and bowed head represent the political defeat of the Republic after Franco’s military uprising.

On the contrary to Ramon’s devastated figure, Rosa is illuminated in a lateral light that brightens her face and body and casts another conflicting shadow in the background.  The entire frame is captured in deep focus, and the outstretched arm of Rosa is seen clearly as she demands that Ramon give her Republican card that she will consequently burn as to hide evidence of the his political affiliations.  It is a significant scene that emphasizes the military uprising, the fear of being classified as republicans, and the rejection of political beliefs.         


The betrayal


This open frame still captured in a medium shot portrays the betrayal of Moncho’s family towards the republican schoolteacher, Don Gregorio.  The angle of the camera shows Don Gregorio’s perspective as he confronts the wrath of the Galician public. The entire scene is depicted in deep focus, emphasizing every essential detail as the crowd stares intently at Don Gregorio from the left side of the frame, while the right hand side depicts those affiliated with the liberal Republic.  It is symbolic that Moncho’s father is standing with the conservatives, while Don Gregorio, dressed in the striped suit that the tailor gave him, stands behind his political ideals and maintains his respect while walking towards the cart full of his republican affiliates.


This shocking, climatic scene contrasts with the rest of the film and symbolizes the defeat and banishment of republican ideals.  As the family, Mocho, Andrés, Rosa and Ramón, reject the schoolteacher with hurtful yells initiated by Rosa, such as “Red, atheist…,” Ramón himself repeats the sayings with tears rolling down his face.  The bowed head of Don Gregorio represents his desperation while observing this profound rejection.  In the still, one also views Moncho’s confused, innocent face while his mother’s hand keeps him close as if preventing an unwanted move.  The tragic ending of the film closes with Moncho throwing stones and yelling words that he fails to completely grasp, such as “Red, atheis, tilonorrinco, proboscis…..” It is a heartbreaking scene that symbolizes the devastation of Don Gregorio’s ideal dream of raising a generation of liberated young people in Spain.    

Part II:  Media Literacy Questions

1.       Who produced this film, when, and why was it produced?

2.       How does The Butterfly’s Tongue differ from other films produced under censorship during Franco’s regime? 

3.       Who directed the film?

4.       Whose interests are represented in this movie, and how do we know this?  Does it favor one ideology more than another?  Provide specific cinematographic examples:  think of each character’s representation, their wardrobe, the angle of the camera, etc….

5.       From whose perspective does the director film the events, and how does this camera reflect this perspective?

6.       Who speaks the majority of time, and whose perspective is the viewer exposed to most?

7.       Is there a perspective, or ideology, with less voice and representation?  Why is this?

8.       Why does the use of the close-up predominate cinematographically?

9.       During conversations, why does the angle of the camera change so many times?  What effect does this have on the spectator?

10.   How do these cinematographic resources effect the viewer—in other words, is the viewer drawn into the events or is there distancing? 

11.   Why does the use of chiaroscuro lighting predominate throughout the film?  Why is strong, natural light used primarily in the outdoor forest scenes?  

12.   What effect does the juxtaposed editing between characters such as Don Gregorio and the nationalist father, or Orujo and Roque, have?

13.   How does Cuerda cinematographically contrast the young and the older generations?

14.   In general, why does the camera favor Moncho’s perspective?

15.   How do the butterfly, the apple and nature represent the ideology of the Republic?

16.   How does Moncho’s asthma represent the ignorance and weakness of the republicans?

17.   What does the death of Carmiña’s dog, Tarzan, represent? When does it occur and why?

18.   What is the importance of the Galician Orquesta Azul’s diagetic jazz music have in the film? 

19.   Why does Cuerda employ extradiegetic Celtic music in the following scenes:  the sexual scene between Orujo and Carmiña, the student trip to the forest, and when one view Don Gregorio as a “traitor” or a “red”?

20.  What effect does the slow motion, tragic ending have?  How can you interpret Moncho’s actions in this scene?       

Butterfly's Tongue


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