'Butterfly' Released With 'Sunshine'

This week CBS News Sunday Morning John Leonard reviews two new films: Sunshine, starring Ralph Fiennes, and Butterfly, a film based on three short stories by Manuel Rivas.
Finally, there's a week to go to the movies where something happens that makes you think instead of stealing your brain cells. History helps. Both Sunshine and Butterfly have some.

Sunshine gives us 100 years of Middle Europe, when Jews tried to be Hungarians, and Hungarians wouldn't let them.

Butterfly gives us nine months of Spain just before the civil war in 1936, when a young republic went to school until Franco's fascists shot the teachers.

Ralph Fiennes stars and stars and stars in Sunshine. There are three of him.

With a beard, he is Ignatz, who changes his name from Sonnenschein to become a judge in the Austro-Hungarian empire.

With a mustache, he is Adam, son of Ignatz, who converts to Catholicism so he can fence at the Berlin Olympics.

Clean shaven, he is Ivan, son of Adam, who gets out of Auschwitz to become a secret policeman in the Stalinist regime, before they remember he's Jewish.

At least as interesting as Budapest, Vienna, wars and revolutions, are the women who throw themselves at Ralph: a stunning Jennifer Ehle, who grows up to be the equally beautiful Rosemary Harris (Ehle's mother in real life).

And there's Molly Parker, who marries Ralph the second in spite of a prior commitment, and Rachel Weisz, who sleeps with Ralph the second, even though she's married to his brother, and Deborah Kara Unger, who goes into the woods with Ralph the third, risking both their lives. And I haven't even mentioned William Hurt, nor the sunshine tonic that made the family rich.

Monarchy, fascism, communism, anti-Semitism and the sex appeal of Ralph are a lot to think about, even in three hours. But something else seems to be on director Istvan Szabo's mind.

If the Sonnenscheins don't help themselves by selling out their Judaism, what are we to make of the filmmaker who keeps popping up to lick the hand of whatever master feeds him? There are dark shadows in Sunshine, not quite dispelled by the radiance of Jennifer Ehle and Rosemary Harris.

The Leonard File
Read past reviews by John Lenard.

Whereas Butterfly, Jose Luis Cuerda's lovely and fragile film based on three short stories by Manuel Rivas, is filled with light. All unknowing on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, a bright and frightened little boy, Manuel Lozano, goes to school for the first time and discovers a teacher, Fernando Fernan Gomez, who will open his eyes to nature, poetry, music and goodness.

We meet not only the boy's radical Republican father, his conservative Catholic mother and his saxophone-playing older brother, but an entire village, a way of life and a moment in history whose wings are about to be broken on a wheel of thugs. When the Civil Guard fascists arrive and the teacher is taken away, the words they fling after him like stones are not at all the words he taught them.

Butterfly comes recommended by none other than Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And as much as it may remind us of why other famous writers like Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Andre Malraux went to Spain to fight for the Republican cause, it also reminds us of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the magnificent novel by Garcia Marquez - of ice, mirrors, magnets and windmills; of bloody lilacs and golden salamanders; of a rain of so many tiny yellow flowers that they "covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals who slept outside."