Runtime: 65 minutes
Director: Nuria Frigola Torrent
By Joan Amenn
Otherworldly creatures who seem to be lit from within spring from the brush of young painter, Rember Yahuarcani. Despite his obvious talent, he feels blocked in his work and begins a journey back to his roots to recapture his inspiration. “Song of the Butterflies” (2020) is a quiet, bittersweet character study of a young man who carries so much responsibility to his past and his people who are dwindling in number.
Rember is among the few remaining people of the Uitoto Nation of Peru. He lives in Lima but paints as a tribute to his grandmother Martha who belonged to the White Heron clan. He returns home to his family where his father also paints and draws but his works are not like his son’s. The violence done to the people of the Uitoto by European colonists who built plantations to profit from the “rubber boom” is the subject matter he returns to again and again. Rember wants to focus on his heritage, not on the brutality that was inflicted upon his people.
The lush beauty of the forests of Peru are shot in glorious cool greens and yellows by Director Nuria Frigola Torrent. The people who live along its edge near rivers and streams have a hard life but seem content in their traditions. For example, when Rember’s mother mentions that there is no cassava flour for bread in the house, he and his father leave to go get some. This does not entail going to some local shop. The two men literally go into the forest and dig up large, heavy cassava roots which they load up in burlap sacks and carry back home. The roots are then processed into flour for the family to use.
Rember feels the weight of the past of his family’s history on his shoulders, particularly since their traditions are fading. His sense of personal mission is elegiac and touching as he holds his grandmother’s memory tight even as he sees that he may be among the last who values her stories. “Song of the Butterflies” is a beautifully mournful look back at an indigenous people who are losing their battle with time. In the short runtime of the film, Torrent makes us feel all the love, joy and grief of the Uitoto as the celebrate their heritage but also remember the horrors inflicted on them. Rember is a light of hope for his people that the audience can feel shining out of his paintings. Torrent captures the power of art to perpetuate memory and emotions, even when the people who inspire them are long gone.