M. Butterfly (1993) - full transcript

During the Cultural Revolution in China in the mid-1960s, a French diplomat falls in love with a singer in the Beijing Opera. Interwoven with allusions to the Puccini opera "Madama Butterfly", a story of love and betrayal unfolds.

The expense reports from Intelligence.

I don't believe it.
Did they give you any trouble?

No, not at all.


"Documentation attached."

Well, I couldn't be happier.

So how are you settling in?

Well, fine. Fine.

The apartment's a bit earnest
and Sovietic, but it's very comfortable.

Yes, well, we all have
the same furniture, you know. Mm-hm.

It comes from one small factory
in Clermont-Ferrand.

Oh, my God.
Things certainly are different here.

You find it different
from your days with Renault, do you?

Well, yes, I do.

You know,
never mind the license to kill...

...those boys certainly have a license
to spend money.

Well, at least it breaks the routine.

- I started in transportation this morning.
- Good.

I'm up to 57 windshield wiper blades
in the past six months.


What are they driving through,
sulfuric acid?

I expect it's all the locals,
spitting on the windscreens.

My God, is it the Swedish
or the Swiss Embassy holding this soirée?

I think it's the Swiss.

No, no, no, you're...

No, you're right,
it's definitely the Swedish.

Well, then, we're over here.

What are they planning
to inflict on us tonight?

Not those Chinese acrobats again,
I hope.

There's a limit
to the times I can watch...

...a man trying to get his leg
around the back of his neck.

Oh, Frau Baden says
there's going to be an opera performance.


Is there some diva
passing through town?

No, it's a local singer.

We're going to hear excerpts
from Madama Butterfly.

I'm embarrassed to admit
I'd never seen Madame Butterfly.


Don't tell anyone though.

I've got one or two people around here
thinking I'm profoundly cultured.

She will fall in love
with an American sailor.

A big mistake.

Why is that?

He will marry her, but he's not serious.

Her American sailor has now left her.

He's not coming back.

Mademoiselle Song is very striking, yes?

But she simply has no voice.

There she is. Excuse me.

Wonderful performance.

Thank you very much.
I really enjoyed it.

She's so wonderful, isn't she?

Oh, she's a nice lady.

Mademoiselle Song.

- It was a beautiful performance.
- Thank you.

I've always seen opera singers
as overweight ladies...

...in too much bad makeup.

Bad makeup is now unique to the West.

I've never seen a performance
as convincing as yours.


Me, as a Japanese woman?

Did you know the Japanese
used thousands of our people...

...for medical experiments
during the war?

But I gather such an irony is lost on you.

No, no, what I...

What I meant was,
you made me see the beauty of the story.

Of her death.


It's pure sacrifice.

I mean, he's not won'thy of it,
but what can she do?

She loves him so much.

It's very beautiful.

Well, yes, to a Westerner.

I beg your pardon?

It's one of your favorite fantasies,
isn't it?

The submissive Oriental woman
and the cruel white man.

Oh, I... I don't think so.

Consider it this way.

What would you say
if a blond cheerleader...

...fell in love
with a short Japanese businessman?

He marries her
and then goes home for three years...

...during which time
she prays to his picture...

...and turns down marriage
from a young Kennedy?

Then when she learns her husband
has remarried, she kills herself.

Now, I believe you would consider this girl
to be a deranged idiot, correct?

But because it's an Oriental
who kills herself for a Westerner...

...you find her beautiful.


Well, I see your point.

The point is, it's the music, not the story,

Gallimard. René Gallimard.

If you wish to see some great theater...

...come to the Beijing Opera sometime.

And further your education.

You know, the Chinese
are an incredibly arrogant people.

They warned us in Paris about it,

Hmm. There's a switch.

Parisians calling the Chinese arrogant.

There's no use fussing about it.

Whenever I see one of them
blowing his nose onto the pavement...

...I always remember
what my father said.

"East is East and West is West,
and never the twain shall meet."

And then I feel much better.


So tell me...

...did you get a chance to meet
Lars Hammer's new wife?

Oh, no.

You know, she's the one
really running that embassy these days.


I hear she's quite homely.

I left early.

Oh, dear,
are you coming down with this cold too?

No, I'm fine.

It's just...

Well, it...

It's silly, but...

I met the Chinese equivalent of a diva.

She's a singer with the Peking Opera.

Oh, where they sing like cats wailing?

She sang the death scene
from Madame Butterfly.

Actually, it's a funny thing
about Chinese.

It sounds more like singing
when they're just speaking normally.

Do you know
that the Chinese hate Madame Butterfly?

She hated it,
but she performed it anyway?

They hate it
because the white man gets the girl.

Sour grapes, if you ask me.

Why can't they just see it
as a piece of beautiful music?


Thank you.

Um... Uh...


It's... It's...

Um, opera.

- Oh.
- Um...

Oh, thank you.

Monsieur Gallimard, come in.

You knew I was in the audience.

It was easy to spot you.

So you are an adventurous imperialist.

Well, I thought it was time
to continue our education.


It only took you three weeks.

I've been busy.

Well, education has always been
undervalued in the West, hasn't it?

I wouldn't say that.

No, of course you wouldn't.

After all, how can you objectively judge
your own values?

I think it's possible
to achieve a little distance.

Do you?

Be a gentleman, will you,
and light my cigarette?

The Oriental woman
has always held a certain fascination...

...for you Caucasian men.

Is that not true?


But that fascination is imperialist.

Or so you tell me.


It is always imperialist.

But sometimes...

Sometimes it is also mutual.

This is my home.

Come another time...

...and we will continue
the process of education.



What are you doing?

Oh, I had the most amazing dream.

I'm surprised
you had the time to dream at all.

When did you get in last night, anyway?

Oh, I went to the, uh, Koenig's.

You know what's it like
when they get in a new shipment of beer.

I shart go back there in a hurry.


Song Liling?

That is my father.

It was very good
that he did not live to see the revolution.

They would, no doubt,
have made him kneel on broken glass.

Not that he didn't deserve
such a punishment.

But he was my father.

I would have hated to see it happen.

There is an element of danger
to your presence.

You must know that.

It doesn't concern me.

It doesn't concern me either.

Well, perhaps.

I am slightly afraid of scandal.

What are we doing that's scandalous?

I'm entertaining you in my parlor.

Where I come from
that would hardly be construed as...

You come from France.

France is a country
living in the modern era.

Perhaps even ahead of it.

China is a nation...

...whose soul is firmly rooted
2000 years in the past.

What I do,
even pouring the tea for you now...

...it has implications.

Please, go.


Monsieur Gallimard.

I never invited a man to my home before.

The forwardness of my actions
makes my skin burn.

Please, go now.

If I go now...

...what assurance will you have
that I'll ever return?

You are cruel.


Shall we skip the Frisches' party?

No, you mistake the whole situation.

You're not going to bore me
with political talk.

It's most important
that you don't worry about it.

- No, no.
- Me, worry?

The Chinese masses
have accepted Communism...

...but they're used
to following their warlords.

No, it would never work.

Don't waste your time
even thinking about Frau Baden.

That womars built like
the Forbidden City.

Everyone can look,
but no one gets inside.

I'm sorry, am I disturbing something?


We have to say,
we're not at all pleased...

...with the way you've been sending back
our expenses for further documentation.


Well, I'm sorry to hear that.

Because I found
two more questionable items tonight.

Is there something
you're trying to prove?

It's not a case of trying to prove anything,
I'm just doing my job.

I mean, if you...

If you really thought you could get away
with your indiscretions forever...

...well, then, you were mistaken.

You listen to me.

You're nobody.
You're worse than nobody.

You're an accountant.


If you're not careful...

...we'll break all your pencils in half.

I played with my father.

- You did?
- Yes.

- Was he a choirmaster?
- Ha, no.

- He wasrt?
- No, we were living...

No, for a while in India.

- Was it Punjab?
- Yes, how did you know?

- I've been to Ceylon.
- Really?

We visited India years ago.

But China is quite a transition, isn't it?

Yeah, do you miss Paris
as much as I do?

To tell you that truth,
I don't even have the time.

- No, but, I...
- We're still unpacking.

I have things to do.

And it's really, really very different.

I'm still trying to figure out, you know,
what the...

Did we fight?

I do not know.

Is the opera no longer of interest to you?

Please, come back.

My audiences miss the white devil
in their midst.

It has been six weeks since we last met.

And still I have not heard from you.

Sometimes, I hate you.

Sometimes, I hate myself.

But always, I seem to miss you.

Your rudeness is beyond belief.

Don 't bother to call.

I'll have you turned away at the door.


René, I think we've located
that diversion we were...

I am out of words.

I can hide behind dignity no longer.

What more do you want?

I have already given you my shame.

Look, if you're so certain
I'm overstepping my bounds, then fine.

Take it up with Ambassador Toulon
for all I care.

Funny, I already have.

Monsieur Gallimard.

The ambassador has been trying
to locate you for the past half hour.

The ambassador?

Look, Gallimard,
there's not much to say.

I've liked you from the day you arrived.

You were no leader,
but you were tidy and efficient.

- Thank you, sir.
- Don't jump the gun.

But over these past few months...

I don't know how it's happened.

- You've become this new
aggressive, overconfident thing.

The reports I've been getting on you...

Well, sir, I... I...

Well, I take my job, uh...

I take it seriously.

Well, well.

You see...

...our needs here in China are changing.

It's still an embarrassment
that we lost Indochina.

We are going to be doing a lot more
intelligence gathering in the future.

Some people...

...are just going to have to go.

Vice Consul LeBon is being transferred,
as is most of his staff.

Sir, if there's, um...

But not you.

Not me?

Scared you?

Mm. I think I did.

Cheer up, Gallimard.

I want you to replace LeBon
as vice consul.


I need a new man to coordinate
a revamped intelligence division.

Paris is demanding something more
than the same old photos...

...showing Chinese cadres
screwing peasant girls in the rice paddies.

And if anyone can shake those boys up,
it's you.

You already have.

So congratulations, Gallimard.

Thank you, sir.

Mademoiselle Song?

Are you mad?

Coming here at this hour?

I've been promoted.

To vice consul.

And what is that supposed
to mean to me?

I came tonight for an answer.

Are you my Butterfly?

What are you saying?

Are you my Butterfly?

- Don't you know already?
- I want you to say it.

I don't want to say it.

I do know one thing.

I have already given you my shame.


It's enough that I even wrote it.

Well, if you admit that,
why not answer my question?

I don't want to.

Are you my Butterfly?

I want honesty.

No falseness between us.

No false pride.


I am your Butterfly.

René, please, gently.

I've never...


René, please let me keep my clothes on.

It all frightens me.

Modesty is so important to the Chinese.

My little treasure.

I don't want to be cruel.

I want to teach you.


Know now, that we embark
on the most forbidden of loves.

I'm so afraid of my destiny.

There is no destiny.

Except the one we make for ourselves.

You think because we live in houses
with electricity...

...that we are suddenly Westerners?

The Chinese are an ancient people.

We cling to the old ways of life and love.

Though inexperienced, I'm not ignorant.

They teach us things, our mothers...

...about pleasing a man.

Clearly, I have a great deal to learn.

Should you refuse
to help me learn it, of course...

...we'll be constantly at odds
with one another.

Uh, but I would ask you, please,
to bear one thing in mind.

Our world is changing.

We French lost our war in Indochina...

...because we failed to learn
about the people we sought to lead.

It's natural, therefore, correct, even...

...that they should resent us.

How could they do otherwise...

...when we refuse to treat them
like fellow human beings?


There is a mystery
you must clarify for me.

What mystery?

With your pick of Western women...

...why did you choose a poor Chinese
with a chest like a boy?

Not like a boy, like a girl.

Like a young, innocent schoolgirl...

...waiting for her lessons.

There's an old Chinese proverb
which says:

"To waste teaching on a girl
is just like tossing rice into the wind."

The Chinese men,
they keep women down.

What, even in the New Society?

In the New Society,
we are all kept ignorant equally.

That's one of the exciting things
about loving a Western man.

I know you're not threatened
by your slave's education.

Mm. Certainly not.

Especially when my slave
has so much to teach me.

Tomorrow afternoon, at 1700 hours...

...we will detonate six atom bombs
over the Forbidden City.

That's the last of the bugs, sir.

That should give those Reds
a thing or two to worry about.

Thank you.

You remember the Americans,
don't you?

Since they don't have an embassy here,
they asked us to be their eyes and ears.

Say Lyndon Johnson signed an order
to bomb North Vietnam, Laos...

...how would the Chinese react?

Well, they'd squawk.

But, you know, in their hearts,
the Chinese don't even like Ho Chi Min.


Deep down, they're attracted to us.

They find our ways exciting.

Of course, they'd never admit it.

But the Oriental will always submit
to the greater force.

So if the Americans demonstrate
the will to win, the Vietnamese...

Mark my words.

- They will welcome them
into a mutually beneficial union.

You really believe that?

Sir, with all due respect,
you don't really think those little men...

...could have beaten us
without our unconscious consent, do you?

There are fewer things I understand
than I care to admit.

That's why I have men like you.

I'll note your opinions in my report.

The Americans always love to hear
how welcome they are.

Yes, well, I certainly...

Comrade Chin.

Forgive me, I didn't expect you.


Decadent trash.

He's begun to tell me about Vietnam.

The Americans plan to increase
troop strength to 170,000 soldiers...

...with 120,000 militia
and 11,000 advisers.

Don't you understand how degrading
those images are to women?

And why do you have to behave this way
when he is not even here?

Comrade, in order to better serve
the great proletarian state...

...I practice my deception
as often as possible.

I despise this costume.

Yet, for the sake of our great helmsman,
I will endure it...

...along with all the other bourgeois
Western perversions.

I'm not convinced that this will be enough
to redeem you in the eyes of the party.

I'm trying my best
to become somebody else.

So I say to the Americans, Diem must go.

I mean, the U.S. Wants to be respected
by the Vietnamese...

...and there they are propping up
this seminarian nonentity as a president.

A man whose only claim to fame
is his sister-in-law.

A woman who imposes
fanatical moral order campaigns.

The Oriental woman, when she's good...

...she's very, very, very good.

But when she's bad, she's Christian.

Still playing the
missionary, are you, Gallimard?

Or are there other positions
that interest you as well?

You seem awfully shy, Gallimard.

Don't say this is the first time
that you're doing this.

Well, you could call it
my first extra extramarital affair.

I called room service for a bottle of wine,
but I think they probably...

Don't you think we have had enough
to drink for tonight?


You look exactly as I imagined you would
under your clothes.

What did you expect?

So come and get it.

You've been drinking.

I've missed you.

- You expect me to give up my career?
- Of course not.

I am your slave.


You toss words like that around
as if you really meant them.

But I do.

Well, let's test this obedience of yours.

Take your clothes off.

Come on.

I'm a man.

I want to see you naked.

But I thought you understood
my modesty.

I thought you respected my shame.

I believe you gave me your shame
some time ago.

And it is just like a white devil
to use it against me.

White devil, so?

I'm no longer your lord and master.

So your obedience has limits, I see.

Why are you treating me like this?

Because all this rubbish...

...about me being faithful
and good to you and...

Well, I'm not what you think I am.

Even the softest skin
becomes like leather...

...to a man who's touched it too often.

I confess.

I do not know how to stop it.

I do not know how to change my body
into the body of another.


Strip me.

Our love, in your hands.

I'm helpless before you.


I'm pregnant.

- What?
- I'm pregnant.

Oh, Butterfly.


I've betrayed you in so many ways,
but I'll love you.

Mm. I'll rescue you.

And save you, and protect you, and...

You have.

Tonight, my beautiful master.

Believe me, you have saved my life.

I wish I were coming with you.

Dream of me and of your son.

I will return with him
from my parents' village...

...when he is 3 months old
as is our custom.

I've told you I'll be perfectly happy
with a daughter.

I am certain it will be a son.

I need a baby.

A Chinese baby with blond hair.

Ha, ha, ha.
This is wonderful talk.

You really are mad.

Trading babies?

The ministry will never approve
such a thing. Ha.


You tell the ministry
we can no longer provide them...

...any more information
on American troop movements in Vietnam.

I've done my best.

Tell them you personally have decided
the revolution...

...is not won'th any more sacrifice.

I'll wait here.

We will struggle with this in committee.


Why, in Beijing opera, are womers roles
traditionally played by men?

I don't know.

Probably a remnant of the reactionary
and patriarchal social structure.


It's because only a man knows
how a woman is supposed to act.

In short, gentlemen,
the report stresses that:

"The fanatical student movement
known as the Red Guard...

...has emerged as a genuinely potent
reactionary political force...

...which will seize upon any excuse
to justify the expulsion...

...of all foreigners from China.

It is, therefore, incumbent
upon all Western diplomatic personnel...

...to maintain
the lowest possible profile."

Gachot, that means
no more dim sum in Fuxingmen District.



I promised you a son.

You see?

Your son.


Oh, my God.

He's so beautiful.

Oh, Butterfly.

What you've done for me.

I've thought about this over and over
while you were away.

I swore to God, if you came back safely,
I'd never let you go again.

I want you to marry me, Butterfly.

I want us to live together.

I want to...

I'll take you to Paris.

I can't marry you, René.

It's all right, I'll divorce my wife.
I can get you out of China.

I can't.


I'm so sorry.

The Red Guards now say
all artists are criminals.

I had to beg them
for just a few moments.

Promise me:

Never forget what our love
has brought to life.


René, whatever happens,
the days I spent with you...

...were the only days I ever truly existed.

Not if you examine them carefully.

No, I don't think it's likely to happen.

- Don't you agree?
- Hmm.

Don't you really?

- Morning.
- Morning.

Back to the abacus.

It's nothing personal.

I'm being sent home because I was wrong
about the American war.

Of course not.

We don't care about the Americans.

We care about your mind,
the quality of your analysis.

All right.

You said China would open up
to Western trade.

The only thing they're likely to trade
out there are Western heads.

And, yes, uh, you said the Americans
would succeed in Vietnam.

You were kidding, right?

You are all here
because you do not know how to dig...

... into the flinty soil of China
and discover its revolutionary future.

We shall teach you how to dig.

You are all here because you are artists,
writers and intellectuals...

... and, therefore, are the enemies
of the great cultural revolution.

We shall rehabilitate you and
teach you how to serve the revolution.

You are all here because you have
alienated yourselves from the people.

We shall redeem you
and send you back...

... to serve the New Society
which you have abandoned.

You are all here
because you represent the four O 's:

Old thoughts, old culture,
old customs and old habits.

Hard labor will cleanse you
of these evils...

... and transform you
into citizens of the future.

You shall now meditate
as you work on today's quotation...

... from Chairman Mao.

When I left China, everything fell apart.

I live alone now.

One more round for my friend.


Now, in China, it was different.

I was different.

Why, sure.

You were white.

No, it was her.

It was her.

Goddamn it.

Must be those fucking students again.

Talk about China.

I'll bet if you go out that door,
you'll think you're back in Beijing.

Every damn leftist student in Paris
has Mao's Little Red Book in his hand...

...and a red firecracker up his ass.

They're all playing at being
Chinese Communists with white skin.



Please forgive me.

After all these years...

...I have no right to even hope...

...that you might remember.


I knew you'd come.

But where's your wife?

She's here.

She's right here in my arms.


Monsieur Gallimard, I am Henri Etancelin
of Domestic Intelligence.

Will you please come with us?

That was 1968 when I arrived in Paris.

For the next two years,
I lived a very comfortable life.

I did some demonstrations
around the country...

...as part of my cultural exchange cover.

And the spying?

Not much at first.

René had lost all his high-level contacts.

The Chinese intelligence wasrt too happy
with parking ticket statistics.

Finally, at my urging,
René got a job as a courier...

...carrying sensitive
government documents.

Did he understand what you planned to do
with the documents?

I told him the Chinese
were holding our son...

...and expected a few favors
before we would be allowed to see him.

He cried and said nothing.

And then one day, he returned
with his first diplomatic pouch.

In his own small way,
René was the perfect father.

Your witness.

The prosecution claims Mr. Gallimard
was fully aware of the implications...

...of his espionage activities.

Is this your opinion, Mr. Song?

I have no opinions.

Then let's approach the matter
from another angle.

Was Monsieur Gallimard aware
of other aspects of your relationship?

Say, the fact that you are a man?

Well, he never saw me completely naked.


But, surely, he must have...

How shall I put this?

Put it however you like.

In all our years together,
René never explored my body.

Monsieur Song, please.

In all your years together...

...he never even once?

He was very responsive
to my ancient Oriental ways of love.

All of which I invented myself
just for him.

You haven't really answered
the question.

Did he know you were a man?

You know, Your Honor, I never asked.

What do you want from me?

Are you my Butterfly?

You still adore me, don't you?

You still want me.

Even in a suit and a tie.

You're not.

You're nothing.

You're nothing like my Butterfly.

Are you so sure?

Come here, my little one.

I'm not your little one.

Ah. My mistake.

I am your little one.


What are you doing?

Helping you to see through my act.

- Stop doing that.
- But that's what you always wanted.

Well, I...
I don't want it now.

Oh, stop that. Stop that.

Look at me.

Look at you?

I fail to see what's so funny.

Oh, well, you never had much
of a sense of humor, did you?

I just think it's ridiculously funny...

...that I've wasted all this time...

...on just a man.

I'm not just a man.

Don't you remember
that theater in China...

...where we met so many years ago?

The place where you gave me your heart.

The skin I remember.

The curve of her cheek.

The softness of her mouth.

I am your Butterfly.

Under the robes, beneath everything...

...it was always me.

Tell me you adore me.

How could you,
who understood me so well...

...make such a mistake?

You've shown me your true self.

But what I loved was the lie.

A perfect lie...

...that's been destroyed.

You never really loved me.

I'm a man who loved a woman...

...created by a man.

Anything else simply falls short.

Special delivery.

Pay the postman.

Big performance for you tonight,


The biggest of my career.

You know me, yes?


Because I'm a celebrity.

I make people laugh.

I made all of France laugh.

- Yeah.
- Oh, yeah, yeah.

But really, if you'd understood,
you wouldn't laugh at all.

Quite the contrary, men like you
should be beating down my door...

...begging to learn my secrets.

For I, René Gallimard...

...have known and been loved
by the perfect woman.

There is a vision of the Orient
that I have...

...of slender women
in cheongsams and kimonos...

...who die for the love
of unwon'thy foreign devils...

...who are born and raised
to be perfect women...

...who take whatever punishment
we give them and spring back...

...strengthened by love unconditionally.

It's a vision that has become my life.

My mistake was simple and absolute.

The man I loved was not won'thy.

He didn't deserve even a second glance.

But instead, I gave him my love.

All of my love.

Love warped my judgment,
blinded my eyes...

...so that now
when I look into the mirror...

...I see nothing but...

I have a vision of the Orient...

...that deep within her almond eyes,
there are still women.

Women willing to sacrifice themselves
for the love of a man.

Even a man whose love
is completely without won'th.

Death with honor is better...

...than life with dishonor.

So at last...

...in a prison far from China...

...I have found her.

My name is René Gallimard.

Also known as Madame Butterfly.