Butterflies in Berlin – Diary of a Soul Split in Two

Director: Monica Manganelli, Writer: Monica Manganelli, Producer: Antonio Luca Padovani, Francesco De Blasi, Production Company: A Latteplus Berlin Film Production + Alexandra Cinematografica Srl, in collaboration with RAI Cinema,  with the support of German Federal Ministry of Culture and Media, Emilia Romagna Film Commission and MIBACT-Italian Ministry of Culture and Cinema, Italy, Language: Italian/English, 30’/ 4×7-14′, 2019, Rights: World

A story inspired by real events during the rise of the Nazis. Alex is a young transsexual living in Berlin in the time when the sexually liberated Weimar Republic gives way to the Third Reich. Searching for his place in the world and his sexual identity, Alex whose character is loosely based on Dora Richter (source Il Manifesto) who became the first to undergo male-to-female surgery in history helped by Magnus Hirschfeld at his pioneering Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, first of its kind. This, unfortunately, happens during the rise of the Nazis, a social disruption that turned the ‘capital’ of sexual freedom into the most repressed country of all times. In the start of the film, his diary is discovered by a young American journalist and we are told his story through his diary.

The film opens with one of the symbolic places of the ‘new’ Berlin, the Holocaust Memorial in the Mitte district. A young journalist receives a diary with the story of Alex, a young transsexual who lived between the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. With a flashback, the viewer finds himself in the Weimar Republic. Alex arrives in the capital and is immediately fascinated (as is the viewer) by the lights, colours and shows that offer the streets and cabarets of the Berlin nightlife. Berlin’s iconic landmarks are Alexanderplatz and historic venues like the Wintergarten. Meet Dr Magnus Hirschfeld, a pioneer in the field of transsexualism studies and founder of the Institut for Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research). Thanks to the doctor, Alex becomes Alexandra and begins a life. All this, however, takes place while Adolf Hitler comes to power. The Fuhrer’s plan to eliminate the Jewish race and the “different” elements of society puts Alexandra at a moral crossroads and to “come to terms with its roots and its sense of responsibility to save lives”.

The animation techniques:

The film uses various animation techniques, 2d and motion graphics, which also blend with real images. All the sets and characters were made by the director who said she wanted to set the film during the Weimar Republic because “it is certainly one of the most visually and aesthetically interesting eras”. The wonderful environments in which the film takes place are not, however, all the fruit of the director’s mind. Many of them are the results of an archive research thanks to which Manganelli was able to find old photos that would have been used to make the film. The visual aspect, fundamental in the film, accompanies the theme of gender identity, of diversity, in a historical era in which the latter was seen as an aspect to be eliminated. Like the soul of the protagonist, even the short film is aesthetically divided into two. First the magnificent lights, the bright colours and the luxurious costumes of the Berlin nightlife, with its cabarets and the frenetic coming and going of cars and people animate the settings in the first part of the film. We then move on to the dramatic advent of the Nazi dictatorship. From the age of light-heartedness, we move on to a dark period, just as the colours and settings become dark, characterized by black, a dark red like blood. The bright costumes of the dancers of the night shows are replaced by the grey uniforms of the SS, the dazzling lights of the golden age of the Weimar Republic are turned off and the fires of the Nazi censorship light up, like the one in which all the registers of the Dr. Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research. Despite being set in an age distant from us, Butterflies in Berlin deals with a topic, that of the acceptance of the “different” which, today, is more current than ever.

About the director Monica Manganelli:
Monica Manganelli was born in Parma in 1977 and graduated from the University of Parma in Conservation of Cultural Heritage, specializing in Architecture and Performing Arts. She began working as a set designer for opera and prose productions at various Italian and European theatres. Her designs are the sets of some operas, including Aida for the Carlo Felice Theatre in Genoa and Roberto Devereux who will soon have a shot at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. After collaborating on cinematographic works like Cloud Atlas of the Wachowski, she made her directorial debut with the short film La Ballata Dei Senzatetto (2015), which saw her debut as a director, and was immediately a great success. Presented at the most important international festivals, it won numerous awards such as the Best Animation at the Los Angeles Shorts Fest and the Special Award for Animation at the Nastri d’Argento 2016. Presented at the most important international festivals, it won numerous awards such as the Best Animation at Los Angeles Shorts Fest. And the Special Award for Animation at the Nastri d’Argento 2016. The film also received a David di Donatello nomination for Best Short Film and returned to the Oscar shortlist.

“Loosely based on true events, Monica Manganelli weaves a tale of transformation through illustrative and engaging animation. Alex’s transformation is carefully juxtaposed with the transformations affecting Germany at this time, a butterfly waking up in the middle of a forest fire. ★★★★★” Merlinka Festival

Butterflies in Berlin, a soul split in two, long applause in the theatre and around the world. A cultured and sensitive visual-musical score that delves into the removed darkness of the Holocaust and paragraph 175 … ” IL MANIFESTO

“A job as beautiful aesthetically as necessary for its frank, truthful and empathic approach to the tragic facts mentioned above. The audience of the Nuovo Cinema Aquila was enraptured by the poignant lyricism of Butterflies in Berlin…” RIFF AWARDS


Honourable Mention from TLVFEST- Jury statement: “Through beautiful, amazingly made Art Deco image, this film outlines an important period in the history of the LGBTQ community, while the main character crossing the boundaries of gender, prohibitions and existence. We’re happy to give the award to the film “Butterflies in Berlin – Diary of a Soul Split in two” by Monica Manganelli.

– BEST DOCUMENTARY at Naples Accordi@Disaccordi Film Festival
– BEST Medium FILM at Weiterstadt Queer FilmFest
– BEST SHORT FILM at Storia in Corto Festival, Mentana (Italy)-LOVERS Film FESTIVAL-Museo del Cinema Torino, 2019
-TLVFest- Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival, Cinemateque Tel Aviv, 2019, Winner Honorable Mention.
-JFBB/Jewish Film Festival Berlin Brandeburg, 2019
-SEDICI CORTO Int. Film Festival, Forlì-Italy, 2019
-FLORENCE Queer Int. Film Festival, 2019
-SZCZECIN Documentary Film Festival, 2019
-DOKUBAKU International Documentary Film Festival, 2019
-SAN DIEGO Italian Film Festival- Italy Exported/Shorts in Competition 2019
-WEITERSTADT Queer FilmFest, 2019
-BEIJING Queer International FilmFest, 2019
-ST. LOUIS International Film Festival 2019, Oscar® qualifying film festival/documentary short subject
-RIFF-Rome Independent Film Festival, 2019 Special Mention
-MOVIEVALLEY Bazzacinema FilmFest, Bologna 2019