BUTTERFLY (Andrei Khrjanovsky, 1972)

Another jewel of Soviet animation, Babochka considers both illusions and the reality of freedom. Set to original music by Alfred Schnittke, the short opens on a butterfly in the forest, an image of wing-flapping loveliness, and proceeds to its antitheses, urban high rises and helicopter in the sky. In a room in one of the innumerable apartments, a boy, zombie-like, stands amidst model airplanes suspended from the ceiling: a further degeneration of the idea of flight as was the helicopter in relation to the butterfly. Somehow a butterfly has flown in; it flies out, and the boy pursues it down the street, net in hand, to catch it.
     The boy—let’s call him Nikolai—feels free and powerful because he is capable of imprisoning this butterfly and others in the tall glass receptacle he also has brought. In reality, this “power” and “freedom” of his projects the imprisonment of his own that he cannot, or refuses to, acknowledge. A distorted image of the boy, rendering him a grotesque ogre, punctuates his capture of a plethora of butterflies. His face turns divided, half red, half black: a fierce mask perhaps implying the extent to which the boy is at war with himself. A gigantic butterfly captures him and drops him among fish in the sea. He wakes up at night in the forest and opens the receptacle to free the butterflies. They’re dead—except: now each, alive again, begins to move. The gigantic butterfly, we now see, is composed of a million butterflies, as is the boy. Each butterfly is spirit. Here is the true freedom of the gigantic butterfly and the boy: spirit. The spirit soars.
     But for the music, the film is mute. Is it a dream of freedom or the freedom of a dream?

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