Graceful and gossamer, thy name is certainly The Butterfly, a delicately etched little character study which just alighted in U.S. theatres from France, where it is said to have quite a popular commodity with the populace. The French, they are a funny race, non?

Ever since Michel Serrault flitted hither and yon as the flamboyant, cross-dressing Zaza in the original 1979 La Cage aux Folles, he seems to order the opposite in roles (as if we could ever forget the magnificence of that performance)--so here he is again: four-square, nine-to-five, both feet heavily on the ground, a medium-sized crank who has taken up butterfly collecting in his retirement. Forget The Collector--this film has no dark hues.

And precious little conflict. For a playing partner, for better or worse, Serrault is inflicted with an infectious, freckled-faced eight-year-old (Claire Bouanich) who is much neglected by her working mom (Nade Dieu). Naturally, the girl takes a shine to him, he being the only body around breathing out and breathing in. And, naturally, Serrault's Julien tries to keep her at arm's length. A sweet, loving relationship evolves gradually, grudgingly and ever so gently.

What angst there is enters the picture through the backdoor. The curmudgeon butterfly collector is confused for a kidnapper when the child hides in his car as he goes on a week-long hiking expedition in search of a rare large butterfly that lives for three days and three nights. But the crisis resolves itself before it reaches Michael Jackson hysteria.

Philippe Muyl, who wrote and directed The Butterfly, didn't bear down hard in either capacity, relying on the easy charm of his two leading players to pull the picture through.

-Harry Haun