Forty-three year old Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby - Jean-Do to his friends - awakens not knowing where he is. He is in a Berck-sur-Mer hospital, where he has been for the past several weeks in a coma after suffering a massive stroke. Although his cognitive facilities are in tact, he quickly learns that he has what is called locked-in syndrome which has resulted in him being almost completely paralyzed, including not being able to speak. One of his few functioning muscles is his left eye. His physical situation and hospitalization uncomfortably bring together the many people in his life, including: Céline Desmoulins, his ex-lover and mother of his children; Inès, his current lover; and his aged father who he calls Papinou. Among his compassionate recuperative team are his physical therapist Marie, and his speech therapist Henriette. Henriette eventually teaches him to communicate using a system where he spells out words: she reads out the letters of the alphabet in ... Written by
Somewhere beyond the sea, somewhere waiting for me...
American painter turned director Julian Schnabel loves biopics of extraordinary artists. His feature debut, "Basquiat" (1996), was an interesting portrait of the troubled painter (played by Jeffrey Wright). His second film, "Before Night Falls" (2000), was even better, and told the story of Cuban poet/novelist Reinaldo Arenas (the magnificent Javier Bardem). His new film, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", surpasses his previous efforts and is nothing short of a masterpiece, for lack of a better word. This time, though, his "artist" is a successful 43 year-old man, Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), a bon-vivant who becomes a victim of the so-called "locked-in syndrome" after a sudden stroke. His mental faculties are intact, but he can't move anything but his left eyelid. With the help of a speech therapist, he struggles to write his memoirs, by blinking letter by letter and letting her write what he wants to say.
Saying more about the plot would spoil the wonderful experience of watching "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". The camera angles/visuals are breathtaking (courtesy of two-time Oscar winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski), and in some moments he makes us see everything from Bauby's point of view. In spite of Bauby's disability, the film is never overly melodramatic, being similar to (but even better than) "The Sea Inside" and "My Left Foot". The cast is fantastic, from Amalric to screen legend Max von Sydow, and the beautiful women in Jean-Do's life (Marie-Josée Croze, Anne Consigny and Emmanuelle Seigner, among others). The soundtrack is also memorable, including Charles Trenet's wondrous "La Mer" (which was recorded by Bobby Darin in English as "Beyond the Sea"). "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" won the Golden Globes for best director and foreign film, and got four Oscar nominations (director, adapted screenplay, editing and cinematography - but NOT Best Foreign Film). France made the mistake of submitting the (fantastic) animation "Persepolis" instead of "Diving Bell", but they should know the Academy would never give Best Foreign Film for an animated movie, as good as it might be, and therefore neither of them got the nomination. But that's actually the Academy's fault for their stupid rules, since France should've been allowed to submit both movies. What if two of the best foreign movies of the year were from the same country? In a perfect world, there would be only a Best Picture category and films from any country and any language would be nominated, but since most people still ignore subtitles, this 'segregation' has to exist. Oh well. Oscar blunders apart, this is a film that will make you see and value the beauty of life. Bravo, Mr. Schnabel! Bravo, Monsieur Bauby! 10/10.
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