A schoolteacher of privilege and a cynical tabloid journalist join forces to avenge the politically-motivated murder of the teacher’s jurist fiance during Peru’s corrupt Fujimori regime in the taut character study-cum-political thriller “Black Butterfly.” With a galvanizing perf by Melania Urbina as the avenging educator and the palpable spell of urgency and dread cast by vet Peruvian helmer Francisco J. Lombardi, pic transcends regional politics to emerge a satisfying drama that will grace fests, flutter into arthouse play and perform strongly in ancillary.
The “free interpretation” of an apparent actual event, pic unfolds in 2000, at the tail end of Alberto Fujimori’s “civil dictatorship.” Specific true-to-life engine that powers plot is Vladimiro Montesinos, honcho of Peru’s intelligence service, who by this time had built a vast network of illegal activities involving business, media and politics.
While taking her young charges on a field trip outside Lima, Gabriela (Urbina) learns that her honest judge b.f. Guido Pazos (Dario Abad) has been brutally murdered in his bed. Meanwhile, weary tabloid journo Angela (newcomer Magdyel Ugaz) is forced by the craven boss she’s half-heartedly dating, Osman (Gustavo Bueno), to write up the story as a gay liaison gone wrong.
Furious, Gabriela confronts Osman, who has her dragged from the paper’s offices. Yet something about the ferocity of her outrage kindles a latent compassion in Angela, who professes to “hate politics” but is secretly appalled at the direction her society has taken.
As the two women hesitantly reach out to each other, Gabriela becomes determined to murder Montesinos, the shadowy figure of power behind Guido’s death.
To that end, false documents are procured, and Gabriela begins a romance with the connected Dotty (Yvonne Frayssinet). This leads to Gabriela’s hiring in the hotel that caters to military and government officials — and a private audience with her prey.
Most of helmer Lombardi’s dozen previous films address government corruption and the challenges of media under trying circumstances. In adapting Alonso Cueto’s novel, he’s wisely kept the relationship between these very different women front and center.
As good as Urbina is, it’s the chemistry between her and Ugaz that makes the pic work — and softens the slightly overlong running time. Other thesps are fine, led by Frayssinet’s deeply conflicted Dotty.
Tech credits are pro. For the record, Montesinos is currently imprisoned in Peru, awaiting trial on numerous charges ranging from murder to drug trafficking.