The bonds of friendship and family endure in this melodramatic paean to motherhood .

The bonds of friendship and family endure through illness, infidelity and the irritating habits of one’s nearest and dearest in “A Butterfly Kiss,” a melodramatic paean to motherhood from Senegal-born, France-based director Karine Silla Perez. Mirroring the pic’s family focus, the helmer’s hubby, Vincent Perez, takes the male lead, her daughters play his kids, and Gerard Depardieu, father of her eldest girl, appears in a cameo. Released in June through EuropaCorp (owned by the helmer’s brother-in-law, Luc Besson), pic tanked after one week. Even so, star power and connections might ease this gilded debut into further offshore fests and French cinema events.

The Paris-set seriocomic ensembler centers on three households where the secrets and desires of the distaff characters keep the narrative wheels creakily spinning and the overall tone warm and fuzzy. Art restorer Billie (Valeria Golino) belatedly reveals to her lawyer hubby Louis (Vincent Perez) and kids that she is dying of cancer, her kindly nurse, Alice (Cecile de France), worries about her own young son’s separation anxiety and Billie’s best friend, aging theater diva Marie (Elsa Zylberstein), has her heart set on conceiving, although her younger conductor hubby (Nicolas Giraud) isn’t so keen on the idea.

As if this weren’t enough, Silla Perez’s all-over-the-place script keeps adding ingredients to the brew: Louis’ black-sheep brother Paul (Jalil Lespert) — Marie’s former boy friend — returns to town and becomes involved with beautiful Ukrainian hooker Natalya (Veronika Novak), who has a 6-year-old son waiting for her in the old country, and the brothers’ refined mama (Edith Scob) reveals a jaw-dropper of her own. Meanwhile, the backdrop of rioting and looting in the banlieue takes centerstage near the end, when Marie casts one of the fleeing participants (Alaa Safi) in her own private drama.

In keeping with the superficial characters and life-goes-on theme, Silla Perez’s helming style encourages indulgent one-note thesping, typified by Golino’s brave but dragged-out process of dying (unfortunately not before a cringe-inducing funky-chicken dance scene with Perez) and Zylberstein’s self-involved theatricality. On the plus side, the dialogue occasionally contains a witty zinger along with some universally recognized sentiments that may appear more affecting when the film eventually finds its audience in home formats.

Widescreen lensing by Thomas Hardmeier gives each of the three leading ladies their own bright color scheme in contrast with the shadowy Pigalle streets, where Paul consorts with Natalya. Composer Angelo Badalamenti’s jazz-tinged score manages to co-exist with the Vivaldi symphony being rehearsed by Marie’s husband, while Anny Danche’s cutting aims for an invisible smoothness that the coverage doesn’t quite facilitate.

Silla Perez is in pre-production on another feature called “Father Christmas Is African.”

A Butterfly Kiss

France

Production

A EuropaCorp release of a Grives Prods., France 2 Cinema, Thelma Films production with the support of TPS France Televisions, Canal Plus, with the participation of the Foundation PPR for the dignity and rights of women, production de Monte Carlo, in association with Uni Etoile 8, Banque Populaire Images 11. (International sales: EuropaCorp., Paris.) Produced by Christine Gozlan. Directed, written by Karine Silla Perez.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen) Thomas Hardmeier; editor, Anny Danche; music, Angelo Badalamenti; production designer, Jean-Vincent Puzos; costume designer, Olivier Beriot; sound (Dolby Digital), Vincent Goujon, Loic Prian, Loic Gourbe. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (First Films, competing), Aug. 20, 2011. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Valeria Golino, Vincent Perez, Elsa Zylberstein, Jalil Lespert, Cecile de France, Nicolas Giraud, Iman Perez, Roxane Depardieu, Veronika Novak, Edith Scob, Serge Hazanavicius, Jolhan Martin, Alaa Safi.

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