Antoine has just returned to his hometown, where he reunites with his former lover and the mother of their little girl, Elsa, whom he has never met. An unexpected turn of events leaves Antoine suddenly alone to take care of Elsa.
Dour ex-boyfriend Antoine (Thomas Blanchard) returns to his Belgian hometown where he reunites with his ex-lover and the mother (Judith Chemla) of their five-year-old girl, Elsa (Lina Doillon), whom he has never met. Through an unexpected turn of events, Antoine suddenly finds himself left alone to take care of the young, inquisitive and spirited youngster. Produced by the Dardenne brothers.Written by
I was not familiar with the names of either Belgian director Amélie van Elmbt or the actors involved; however a film produced by the Dardenne brothers with Scorsese as executive producer catches your attention instantly and requires a viewing. I was amply rewarded. The French title is Drôle de Père, something like funny/strange father which is a little more descriptive that the English title The Elephant and the Butterfly, the name of a children's tale that little Elsa likes to hear again and again as bedtime story.
The plot: circumstances compel Antoine, an absent father for years, to take care of her five year old daughter Elsa for a day and a night. Elsa who misses the father she never really knew thinks at the beginning that Antoine is just her mother's friend. What the film shows is an acquaintance that begins with a wary mutual acceptance (with some guilt on Antoine's part) and, in the course of a day grows into a loving relationship with (perhaps) a future. The story is open ended and the rest is left for us to imagine.
Nothing much happens on screen beyond the efforts (mostly, but not always successful) of a grownup to entertain a child, which includes visits to parks, beaches and at times the help of various relatives and friends. The script by the director and Matthieu de Braconier is exceptionally good. Characters are defined by their actions, there are no explanatory flashbacks and information is sometimes partial or missing as in real life. The universe of five year old Elsa is masterfully depicted, with its childish naiveté combined with the keen intuition for goodness children seem to be born with, and is many times dulled in later years by life experiences. Music and cinematography fit the tale perfectly.
It would be difficult to find fault with this film. Perhaps the beginning is a little contrived and there are some rough edges to the (otherwise excellent) acting, but this is a superior work, not to be missed. It is the second feature film by director van Elmbt, and I hope to see more of her work.
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