The Butterfly

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Butterfly Movie Poster Image
Excellent French film with child discussing mature topics.
  • NR
  • 2003
  • 80 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Beautiful friendships can develop, no matter the differences in age or backgrounds between people.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Beyond his ornery persona, Julien is a wise grandfather figure who grows to care for Elsa. Beyond her childish precociousness, Elsa is a kind and sensitive little girl who needs to know that her mother loves her.


A little girl is shown trapped at the bottom of a cave-like crevasse. A poacher hunts, shoots, and kills a deer. Characters make references to serial killers.


"Love making" is referenced.


"Damn," "Goddamn," and "s--t." A character is referred to as "scratching his balls."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

At a dinner, adults are shown sipping wine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Butterfly, which is an excellent French film about a girl who sneaks away from her absentee mother to go on a butterfly hunting adventure with a cranky grandfatherly lepidopterist, frankly discusses topics like abortion and teenage motherhood. Elsa, the precocious 9 year old who becomes friends with Julien, is a worldwise Parisian girl who is familiar with adult topics like these. There is some profanity throughout ("s--t," "damn"), but all-in-all, these two characters light up the screen, and the acting is so far above and beyond most children's movies, the end result is a touching film about the difficulties and joys of family and friendship, all set amidst the backdrop of both Paris and the butterfly-filled countryside.

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What's the story?

Julien is a cranky aging Parisian butterfly hunter and collector who lives downstairs from Elsa, a precocious 9 year old who doesn't get to spend as much time with her single mom as she would like. She befriends Julien, discovers his butterflies, and manages to sneak into his car as he leaves for the mountains to hunt for more butterflies. Together, Julien and Elsa go through fields and forests, each learning from the other as they discuss life, death, butterflies, and humanity's place in the world.

Is it any good?

THE BUTTERFLY features excellent acting, an engaging story, and beautiful shots of the French countryside. The film is both a story about the friendship that develops between an ornery lepidopterist and a precocious 9 year old, as well as a discussion about life, death, and the difficulties between a single mom and her young daughter.

And yet, while discussing these heavier topics, there's a charm and grace to the film that is undeniable. One wishes all young performers were as natural as Claire Bouanich. While mentions of serial killer and abortion would make this problematic for more sensitive and/or younger viewers, The Butterfly is a superb physical, mental, and emotional adventure putting new spins on familiar themes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how this film takes a familiar theme, that of the "cranky old guy and precocious young kid who strike up a friendship," and makes it something truly unique. What are the elements the film uses to keep this from sinking into a cliche?

  • As a French film, how does this differ from Hollywood movies dealing with similar themes?

  • What are butterflies symbols of?

Movie details

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Themes & Topics

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