Hot Docs 2020 (Online): Our Review of ‘The Song of the Butterflies’

Hot Docs 2020 (Online): Our Review of ‘The Song of the Butterflies’

The Song of the Butterflies has three locations. The first is where painter Rember Yahuarcani lives, Lima. A city that’s also a hotbed for political activists who champion Indigenous rights. Instead of joining, he walks by these peaceful protesters. But his heart is with them, remembering his roots as a member of the Uitoto. A Nation with two families left.

Director Nuria Frigola Torrent then shows Rember’s journey outside of Lima. His first destination is a Uitoto settlement in Peru, where his family lives. As an artist, he feels like he’s painting the same characters over and over again. And this trip home might give him a fresh start. It seems like it does, and it brings him close to nature.

Torrent’s depiction of Rember’s trip has some experimental moments, incorporating natural sounds. There’s also his grand-mother narration, his artwork, and photos of Uitoto enduring the rubber boom. But for every scene like that, there’s another of just Rember eating with his family. And there’s a banality in these scenes, unable to capture how it symbolizes the Uitoto’s resilience.

The Song of the Butterflies is an example of slow cinema with its depiction of the naturally mundane. That’s still true as Rember ferries from Peru to Colombia, the real home of the Uitoto. A man and his director uses the trip to grapple with a Nation’s painful history in encountering its settler counterparts. But Torrent’s approach towards that history feels static.

But sometimes it’s ok for Torrent to state the facts as they are. There’s a scene juxtaposing a former plantation with a picture of the way it used to look. Colonialism was and still is a powerful force, encroaching into rural Indigenous lands. That message and the way The Song of the Butterflies delivers it is effectively haunting.

The Song of the Butterflies is a part of Hot Docs’ Online Festival streaming until June 24th.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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