Black Butterfly (2017)

Spain, US, Italy / 93 minutes / color / Grindstone, Ambi, Paradox, Elipsis [sic] Capital, Battleplan, Lionsgate Premiere Dir: Brian Goodman Pr: Silvio Muraglia, Andrea Iervolino, Monika Bacardi, Alexandra Klim, Marc Frydman, Rod Lurie, Alberto Burgueño, Juan Antonio García Peredo Scr: Justin Stanley, Marc Frydman Story: Papillon Noir (2008 screenplay) by Hervé Korian Cine: José David Montero Cast: Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Piper Perabo, Vincent Riotta, Brian Goodman, Katie McGovern, Abel Ferrara, Nicholas Aaron.

Writer Paul Lopez (Banderas), an early stellar career now too many years and too many bottles of hooch behind him, lives alone in the midst of an extremely picturesque Colorado nowhere while watching himself run out of money fast and inspiration faster.

One day at the diner where he’s meeting Laura Johnson (Perabo), the realtor who’s trying to sell his house for him, he’s rescued from an altercation with an angry trucker (Goodman) by an ex-con drifter, Jack (Meyers). The upshot is that by way of thanks he invites Jack to lodge with him for a few days.

Antonio Banderas as writer Paul Lopez.

Jack starts to take over Paul’s life. Initially it’s just a matter of fixing up the house, but then he appoints himself Paul’s literary critic and mentor, and then in effect his life coach. The reasons Paul’s career has plummeted, Jack reasons, are twofold: overindulgence in the sauce and crapola plotting. He proposes that, as the basis for Paul’s next screenplay, he use the story of how they came to be together, except recasting it to give a completely different interpretation of events from the straightforward one that we’ve been assuming.

Matters escalate. Jack becomes increasingly menacing, increasingly dominating. Clearly he’s a psycho; we know this long before he impulsively murders Deputy Sheriff Carcano (Riotta), who’s called by in search of a missing woman—thought possibly to be a new victim of the serial murderer who’s been terrorizing the area, the Roadside Killer. Could Jack indeed be the Roadside Killer?

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as parasitic drifter Jack.

Laura is dragged into the proceedings and held hostage alongside Paul as Jack plays cat-and-mouse games with the befuddled writer. The physical struggles between the two devolve into a battle between rival storylines—the stories in question being, of course, the events we’re witnessing. When, late on in the movie, Jack announces that “I prefer my ending!” we know he’s no longer talking about a mere screenplay: he’s talking about matters of life and death, as well as the way our existences are governed by the habit we have of projecting the world’s events, including our own lives, into story form. A problem we have is that, while we do this, we constantly try to recast events so they make the story that best pleases us.

Piper Perabo as realtor Laura Johnson.

Although it has all the trappings of, and takes the form of, a psychological thriller—and can be enjoyed as such—Black Butterfly is clearly far more concerned with the metafictional aspects of its convoluted tale. It’s a very literary piece, an exploration of story, and it’s one that actually seems to gain in depth on a second viewing. (If anyone ever wants to publish a novelization of Black Butterfly, I’m ready and eager.) In a way it’s a Trojan Horse of a movie, selling itself on the basis that it’s yet another serial-killer chiller and then instead debouching into the viewer’s lap a whole bunch of ideas you’d expect to encounter not at the cineplex but between the covers of a literary novel.

Vincent Riotta as Deputy Carcano.

The final resolution even manages to explain an apparent inconsistency that was troubling me throughout the movie: Why does Paul sometimes use an old-fashioned manual typewriter, sometimes a laptop computer?

Black Butterfly is based on a French TV movie called Papillon Noir (2008) dir Christian Faure and starring Eric Cantona (yes, that Eric Cantona), Stéphane Freiss and Hélène de Fougerolles. After watching the later movie, I found a copy of the original on YouTube HERE. There aren’t any English subtitles aside from the auto-translated word salad, but, even though I have difficulty understanding spoken French, I found I had no huge difficulty in following what was going on, having already watched Black Butterfly; the remake is a really quite faithful one. If you’re a competent francophone, I do recommend Papillon Noir to you—as indeed I do the remake.

Abel Ferraro as storekeeper Pat.

Trivia Korner: We occasionally see a photo of Paul’s ex-wife, Rene; in fact it’s of Alexandra Klim, one of the movie’s many producers. Pat, the long-suffering local storekeeper who allows Paul seemingly endless tick for his booze, is played in a cameo by acclaimed director Abel Ferrara. The guy who tries to pick a fight with Paul early on is played by Black Butterfly‘s director, Brian Goodman. And the “Black Butterfly” of the title is a tattoo on the back of Jack’s neck—it has nothing to do with the plot.

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6 thoughts on “Black Butterfly (2017)

    • Why, thank you for the kind words. Your $5 is in the mail . . .

      I hope you enjoy the movie when you get to it. Are you planning to have a peek at the French original, too?

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