When black butterflies mean more than death

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 31 October 2022

Now streaming at Netflix is Black Butterflies which we find so perfect for this long weekend coinciding with the Halloween celebrations in the real sense. By that I mean the hallowed – which is the old English for “holy” – evening of saints not of demons and evil creatures as Hollywood had erroneously preferred to portray.

Based on a French original “Les papilons noirs”, Black Butterflies is a psychological thriller of superb storyline and cinematography. Despite its depiction of violence and nudity, it is unmistakably French artistry at its best. Every bit in the series is interesting and masterly crafted that you won’t dare to skip and advance to the next scenes.

Overall, Black Butterflies is excellent first of all because of its brevity. It is a six-part series of not more than 60 minutes each episode except for the final one that went four minutes overtime. Despite the many twists and turns in every episode, it is not boring because there are always new revelations from the past and present lives of each of the main characters. I would not say the series is addictive but it is more of interesting as it tickles the mind, including one’s heart and soul that you examine your value systems and philosophy in life especially how we see and judge people.

Black Butterflies is a story of a novelist named Adrien who had agreed to write into a novel the memoir of an elderly man named Albert who had specifically chosen him for the task. How and why he was chosen to write, I will not discuss here so as not to spoil your viewing pleasures but that is the main plot actually.

Creators Olivier Abbou and Bruno Merle seamlessly weaved into a beautiful tapestry the stories of three men around one woman named Solange — Albert who had loved her so much, so true and so passionately worthy of emulation to some extent; Adrien the writer whose inner self was so affected and disturbed, later altered upon uncovering the real persons behind Albert and especially Solange later; and Carrel, the police investigator who had pursued the cold case against Albert and Solange.

Another woman, a tattoo artist and painter named Nastya who turned out to be a half-sister of Solange suddenly joined the plot later in the series. Albert helped launch her career when he bought her first major work of art, a painting of black butterflies that adorned the entrance wall of his residence. Adrien would meet her once at Albert’s home and would sought her about thrice for sex and conversations, only to find out that she is the “missing link” in his novel, even to his life when Nastya turned out to be a vital witness in one of Albert and Solange’s series of murders!

Oh yes, Albert and Solange as couple had the most strange and deviant sexual fantasy that seemed so unbelievable even to Adrien at first.

According to Albert, he met Solange when they were both young kids barely in their teens; she was an outcast in their village being the daughter of a prostitute to a German soldier in World War II. As a consequence, both mother and daughter were mocked by everyone including young boys.

Albert would be her knight in the shining armor, the one who would always defend her until they fell in love with each other and got involved into a series of murders together. Even up to the end after their separation, Albert remained faithful and true to Solange, defending her, covering up for her. In fact, he must have loved and respected Solange so much even from the very start of their relationship that having sex with her never crossed his mind – until one afternoon after an incident at the beach.

They were spending a quiet afternoon at the beach when two American brothers arrived and fascinated with tourists because “they were just like them”, they befriended them. Albert and the two visiting brothers played at the sea while Solange retreated to lie and rest at the shore. The elder American followed her and tried raping her; Solange fought by stabbing him with a corkscrew to his back. Albert and the younger American saw everything from the sea and when the kid tried to flee, Albert killed him to ensure there were no witnesses to the crime. Albert and Solange then fled from the scene, running into the woods and that was only when they had their first sexual experience together. It was so passionate that from then on they would be inseparable, would have a lot of sex. And murders.

The couple opened a salon and were very successful that they could afford to go on vacations so often around France and even Italy. Solange would flirt with men and once they are turned on, she would suddenly back out; naturally, she would anger her target who would then try to rape her. That is when Albert would come into the scene, “rescuing” Solange from her rapist by killing him. After every murder – whether inside the victim’s home or mobile camper, or outside in the wilderness – Albert and Solange would passionately have sex right at the crime scene with all the blood still in their hands.

One of their victims they have met while vacationing was the father of Carrel the police investigator; after killing his father, Solange who had had two previous abortions took the baby left behind but Albert refused the idea of adopting him. He then placed the baby in a basket and left him in a cemetery. That explained the troubled childhood and memory of Carrel who became a police detective spending much of his career looking for the suspects behind his father’s murder who turned out to be Albert and Solange. He almost arrested Albert one night in his home but was overpowered by Albert, thus ending all his investigations into Albert and Solange that spanned 30 years! It would finally be put into conclusion by Carrel’s only friend and partner, Mathilde.

Black Butterflies may have many scenes of violence and nudity but overall, it is a feel good series where the virtues of justice and kindness are highly extolled in the most unusual way. It is a great story of love told in the most absurd way that makes us examine too in our post-modern time how we have become so relativistic without realizing that in the end, moralities and virtues would always remain true and valid and relevant even in our modern time. Despite new discoveries in the many effects of genetics even in human behavior as espoused by Adrien’s wife Nora who worked as a researcher, the series showed the importance of human freedom that enables us to choose what is good and better and best for us.

Most of all, despite all these trends in science and philosophy professing the concept of a “superman” even without claiming to be a follower of Nietzsche, Black Butterflies beautifully expressed in the end the reality of a personal and loving God in Jesus Christ. At a reception celebrating Adrien’s literary award for his novel based on Albert’s memoir, one of the guest reminds him that his favorite quotation in the novel was actually from the Book of Jeremiah, citing its complete quote as “In those days they shall say no more: the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (31:29). Albert used to tell Adrien the quotation as if it were his original, implying that his murderous tendencies were borne out of his father’s sins. The expression had an impact on Adrien especially whenever he, too, would remember his violent past. It was only after the guest had explained that this prophecy had long been fulfilled in Jesus Christ who had set us free from sin did Adrien come to his senses and decided to set everything in his life right by writing the final ending of his novel before turning himself over to the police for a murder too.

Incidentally, while the police were pursuing Adrien, his wife Nora was also chasing his mother who had kidnapped their son. She too would be arrested by the police for child kidnapping.

The series ends with Adrien seated inside the police interrogation room, finally stating his real name for the first time after it was hidden from him by his own mother for fears he might end up a murderer like his father. Or, mother?


Last interesting twist in this series is why it is called Black Butterflies?

It was never tackled in any of the six episodes though the term black butterflies and its images were mentioned and shown only in passing. It seems to me that while black butterflies are always considered as a bad omen in almost every culture like ours which often signify the dead and death itself, Black Butterflies the series is inviting us to examine anew what is really evil and bad, morally wrong by looking more into our hearts in the light of Jesus Christ and his teachings than putting its blame on somebody else, especially our dead ancestors. Have a blessed All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day!

Photo credits:
All from Netflix - Black butterfly in a frame, Adrien, Albert, and younger Albert and Solange at their Salon.
Last photo by Author, cemetery facing Jerusalem, 2019.