Printed from WriteWords -

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

by  laure

Posted: Saturday, March 1, 2008
Word Count: 687
Summary: Film review of Julian Schnabel new film.

Le Scaphandre et le Papillon

Jean-Dominique Bauby (April 23, 1952 – March 9, 1997) was a well-known French journalist and author and editor of the magazine ELLE.
On December 8, 1995 at the age of 42, Bauby suffered a cerebro-vascular attack while driving in the countryside in his smart new convertible.

When he woke up twenty days later, completely bed-ridden, breathing through a respirator (diving bell), feeding through a feeding tube, he found he was almost entirely speechless; he could only move his mouth a little, and blink his left eyelid.
Despite his condition, he authored the book The Diving Bell And The Butterfly by blinking when the correct letter was reached by a person slowly reciting the alphabet over and over again. Bauby had to compose and edit the book entirely in his head, and convey it painfully one letter at a time.
In 2007, American painter-director Julian Schnabel released a film version of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It starred actor Mathieu Amalric as Bauby and won Schnabel the best director prize at Cannes, a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination for Best Director.

In addition to his work as an artist, Schnabel has written and directed three films: Basquiat, a biopic on the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat(1996), and Before Night Falls(2000) an adaptation of Reinaldo Arena’s
autobiographical novel. The film takes an episodic look at the life of the
Cuban poet and novelist (1943-1990), from his childhood in Oriente province to his death in New York City.
As a painter, Schnabel chooses topics related to his art, and we can clearly see that his form of filming is far more original than that of most of the movies released now: three feature films, which constitute a biopic trilogy about modern artists transcending limitations.

Much of the movie is shot from Bauby's point of view, so Amalric is often offscreen, although we hear his voice, in narration. The shots from Bauby's stationary hospital-bed perspective are simultaneously distressing and inspiring, as cinematographer Janusz Kaminski(who did Shindler’s List) manipulates light and focus to create compelling images that would be abstract if not for the cropped presence of a nurse or piece of furniture.

The shots finds beauty in the commonplace, evocative of the work of Willem de

Kooning or Mark Rothko, artists, painting in a style that came to be referred to Abstract expressionism, in the post World War II era. Artfully obscured, blurred at the edges and dappled with beautiful tones, reminiscent of the painting ‘Green, Red, Blue’ from the New York School artist Mark Rothko.

The beauty of the film doesn’t consist only in the photography: the character of Jean-Do contributes to it with subtlety and extreme courage.
The film begins with Jean-Do,( that’s how he used to be called by his entourage before his stroke) coming out of his coma and being told by a neurologist that he’s suffering from “Locked-in syndrome”. The English term is used by the French doctor; the spectator shares immediately in his isolation.
Initially he must come to terms with his condition and get over his death wish. His introspective makes him realise human existence is not only endurable but worthy of beautiful things and memories, as in a very moving sequence when he shaved his dad, or remembering the beautiful women of his life, like the mother of his children(Emmanuelle Seigner): such things can keep us alive. Fortunately Jean-Do has a love for culture, literature, cinema, he even calls the hospital balcony where he sits for hours thinking of movies “Cine-citta”. With his witty humour,his comments on his condition, and his perseverance are an extraordinary achievement, without self pity.
The soundtrack is sublime: tears of admiration for Jean-Do were running down my cheeks when Tom Waits sang "All the world is green".
The choice of songs is exquisite, from "La mer" by Charles Trenet to The Velvet Underground playing "Pale Blue Eyes".

The spectator doesn’t or shouldn’t feel sad, the story itself, which is without a doubt moving, tells us life is full of celebration.
A magnificent battle for life that definitely deserved to be seen.