The Last Butterfly

1991, PG-13 Directed by Karel Kachyna. Starring Tom Courtenay, Brigitte Fossey, Freddie Jones, Linda Jablonska, Daniel Margolius.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 13, 1993

From the award-winning Czech director of The Ear comes this relentlessly depressing -- albeit powerful -- film which manages to weave together mime, Nazis, and the story of the Czechoslovakian village Terezin, Hitler's so-called “City of the Jews.” Set in that blighted place during the final days of the Reich, Kachyna presents us with a tired, defeated-looking mime by the name of Antoine Moreau (Courtenay). Though once a French national treasure, Moreau now finds himself forced to play broad burlesque (“Walking Against the Wind,” “Man Hanging Himself”) to endless crowds of blitzed Waffen SS officers. As it happens, he is eventually sent to Terezin -- a Jewish ghetto that serves as a final stopping-off point before the camps, and, eventually, death -- as punishment for offending some Nazi higher-ups. Because Moreau is not Jewish, he is taken under the pretext of starring in a one-man show to entertain the hundreds of children who live in Terezin. With promises of excellent pay and a quick trip back to Paris dangling before him, Moreau seems to have little to worry about, until he discovers that the whole plan is merely contrived to white-wash Terezin's abysmal conditions for a visiting Red Cross human rights group. Suddenly the stage is set, but nobody (most of all Moreau himself) is quite sure what the play will be. Legend has it that Jerry Lewis (yes, that Jerry Lewis) once attempted a film along these same lines, titled The Day the Clown Cried, but Lewis's tale of a French mime who finds himself forced to lead Jewish children to their deaths was reportedly so ghastly that all existing copies were seized and destroyed by the Nutty Professor himself. Kachyna's Czech/English co-production is certainly several notches above Lewis's surreal melodrama, but the film never really gets where it so obviously wants to go; it just continues plodding along toward an all-too-obvious, all-too-horrible ending. Resolutely gloomy and laced through with grimy passages of quiet (and not so quiet) desperation, it's a historical horror story of epic proportions that succeeds in doing nothing so much as leave the viewer with the hollow, shell-shocked feeling of being witness to too much sorrow in a 110-minute period. As it is often in real life, this reel life offers no comfort, no solace, and very little hope.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Last Butterfly, Karel Kachyna, Tom Courtenay, Brigitte Fossey, Freddie Jones, Linda Jablonska, Daniel Margolius

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