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
One of the best films in years, and in artistic cinematic terms, one of the best films I've ever seen. That's a heavy statement to make, but off the top of my head, I cannot think of another film that explores the inner workings of a character so intimately and believably, while blending cinematography, sound effects, and musical score in such harmony -- but in a fashion we (as American's at least) are not trained to enjoy. I felt the French influence strongly cinematically and, of course in the dialogue, but the writing and acting was so fluid it felt like the subtitles weren't even there.
The film deals with a rare physical condition, and I was physically there with the character from start to finish. I felt each moment as if it were my own. That is a rare accomplishment in cinema. Julian Schnabel directed a stellar cast. Mathieu Amalric was unusually charming as Jean-Dominique Bauby, and Max Von Sydow was heartbreaking as his lonely widower father. The female leads were all equally impressive as they were beautiful. I don not mean to generalize them, but they were all so excellent that they blend seamlessly in my mind, in terms of performance.
Overall, this film was as pure a cinematic experience as I've witnessed in a long time. A true artist turns out a film that is truly a piece of art. Julian Schnabel takes his time in between films, but with work like this, there's no need to rush. Like a good painting, one can enjoy it for a lifetime.
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