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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.
Earlier this year, a good friend, avid reader and film buff informed me
that one of her favorite books was the basis for a film which recently
won awards at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. I knew nothing of the
novel or the film so she offered me the book to read. I enjoyed the
story but didn't completely appreciate its depth until I recently got a
sneak peek at the film.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is about Jean-Dominique Bauby, (Mathieu Amalric) a popular editor of the French fashion magazine 'Elle.' At age 43 he is stricken with a stroke leaving him with lock-in syndrome, a medical condition that, except for his left eye, rendered him completely immobile. In fear of his right eye becoming "septic" doctors quickly stitched the eye shut.
This sealing of that eye is an early scene, which is so perfectly shot that it places you inside Bauby's head and body, and keeps you there for the entire film. You see the world as he views it while desiring to be free of the paralyzing feeling of a sinking diving bell. At other times, with his imagination, you find yourself fluttering as free as a butterfly.
Bauby wrote his story with the use of a unique sequence of letters specifically designed so he could blink his eye to communicate as he created every single word of his story.
This film is in no way depressing. The cinematography is brilliantly captured. Everyone was completely captivated by the screenplay as we experienced life deep inside Bauby's body, mind and soul. For the entire 2+ hours, you won't want to be anyplace else.
The inadequacies of the descriptions of this movie emphasize the gulf
between the written (or spoken) word and the work of art itself. I
could write all the spoilers and it wouldn't make a difference, because
the riveting quality here doesn't depend on plot surprises. It is the
improbable story, a story that will touch you and then executed by
actors who seem like their lives depend on being true to the story.
This is an anti-Hollywood, anti-formula movie. Those have their place, but this is a great antidote to the silly decisions made by inappropriately powerful studio execs.
See it. You'll be thankful you did.
Though not paralyzed from head to toe like French fashion magazine
editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, many of us are in the "locked-in" syndrome
locked into our resentments and our fears, a rigidity that sours us
on life and keep us estranged from family and friends. Julian
Schnabel's masterful The Diving Bell and the Butterfly allows us to
better appreciate the simple pleasures in life by dramatizing the
debilitating trauma faced by the 43-year old editor who suffered a
massive stroke that left him unable to speak or to move his head and
whose only means of communication was to blink one eye one blink for
yes, two blinks for no.
Beautifully shot by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski with a screenplay by Ronald Harwood, the film begins with Bauby's confused awakening in the hospital after twenty days in a coma. We see only a blur of images and claustrophobic close-ups that mirror the patient's mental state. We can make out a hospital room and doctors and nurses offering reassuring thoughts. We hear Bauby's words but the doctors do not and we know that while his body isn't functioning, his mind is as sharp as ever. With the help of a speech therapist (Marie-Josée Croze), and a very patient transcriber, a code is developed that allows Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), called Jean-Do by his friends and family, to compose a book based on his experience.
When the therapist recites the most-frequently used letters in the French alphabet, Bauby blinks when he wants to choose a letter. The book, on which the film is based, was published in 1997, shortly after Bauby's death. One of the most dramatic moments in the film occurs near the beginning when the first thought Jean-Do communicates is that he wants to die. Feeling rejected and angry, the therapist stomps out of the room but apologizes and comes back shortly to resume the treatment. We do not actually see Jean-Do until about a third of the way through the film but we can hear his thoughts which are in turn angry, funny, and bitterly ironic. Bauby compares his body to a deep-sea diver being suffocated in a diving suit and his poetic imagination to a butterfly.
It is Jean-Do's sense of humor that keeps the film as light as it can be under the circumstances and his eloquence that keeps us riveted. When we finally do see him with his immobile body and his drooping lower lip, it is still a shock but we smile when he says that "I look like I came out of a vat of formaldehyde." Much of the film vividly explores the editor's imagination and the camera takes us on some wild rides that include images of Nijinsky, Empress Eugénie, Marlon Brando, and Jean-Do in his imagination skiing and surfing. Some of the most emotional moments occur when he greets his young children at the beach for the first time after his stroke, a telephone "conversation" with his 92-year old father (Max Von Sydow), and flashbacks to his youth - driving with his girlfriend, shaving his father, supervising a fashion shoot, and taking his son on a trip in a new sports car. Bauby's wife Céline (Emmanuelle Seigner), whom he left for exotic girlfriend Ines (Agathe de La Fontaine), visits him in the hospital and comforts him while Ines cannot bring herself to see him, saying that she wants to remember him the way he was.
Realizing how his life had been less than exemplary, his stroke becomes an opportunity for redemption and allows him, if not to cleanse his soul, to discover that humanity lies in his consciousness not in material things or sexuality. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a film of enormous power that shakes us and enables us to get in touch with the miracle of each moment. Schnabel says that his purpose in making the film was to tell "the story of all of us, who surely do face death and sickness. But if we look", he says, "we can find meaning and beauty here." There is enough of both meaning and beauty to make The Diving Bell and the Butterfly one of the best films of the year.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I saw the trailer of this French movie for the first time, nothing
appealed to me. Second time, I thought the director had used very good
and innovative camera angles. Later I read about the story and I got
hooked to see this movie. I do not understand French or the Dutch
sub-titles. My friends are amazed at my zeal to still go and see a
movie with no language orientation.
This is a true biographical sketch of a French Journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) who was also the editor of magazine ELLE. In 1995, he had a heart stroke and that left him fully paralyzed with a rare condition lock-in syndrome. This is his story from his eye view. Despite his condition, he authored a book by blinking his left eye-lid when a correct alphabet was uttered by a person. It is a painful process to write a book with such a pace. Not only for Jean but it requires enormous patience from the side of the one scripting the alphabet to form words and sentences. Jean died 3 days after the book was published.
Who else could have made the movie but a very sensitive and artistic person it is an American artist / painter and now Director Julian Schnabel. This is his third movie and he has hit the right chords to draw the vast canvas. In the first couple of minutes we are all set for what is to follow. The fantastic capture of real eye angle camera movements from the vision of Jean is incredibly real. For first 20 minutes the audience only sees what Jean sees, but when the camera slowly comes out of Jean's eyes and sees Jean objectively every time I felt like going back to the heart and soul of Jean's eye vision. It is so wonderful and sensitive.
Mathieu Amalric has played the character of Jean with so authentication that it is hard to believe and separate his self from the real character.
The most wonderful part that remains with you after the movie is the sense of humor with which Jean sees this world. He remains light hearted at times and thinks hilarious comments even in the most painful state of his being.
I would also like to mention the two supporting characters who render Jean's words on paper. It is the patience and sensitivity of characters that is touching and those roles are beautifully portrayed by two well known Canadian and French actresses Marie Josee Croze (former writer) and Anne Consigny (latter writer) respectively.
The photography is superb. The camera angles as I mentioned are innovative and treat to watch. Hats off to Julian Schnabel in gifting the world of cinema a rare gem! When good cinema touches your soul language disappears! (Stars 7.5 out of 10)
The best film so far - that I've seen - in 2008. A totally artistic
endeavour that succeeds on every level. Expecting a somewhat depressing
movie, I found it to be the exact opposite. Uplifting, joyful, and
inspirational while showing a man (played by Mathieu Amalric)
completely paralyzed, apart from the ability to blink his left eye.
There is a seamless blend of cinematography with the music to enhance the inner life of the main character, the viewer is at one with his inner frustration, his soaring imagination, his follies, faults and lusts. At times it is humorous, at others there are indelible vignettes - one of the long term partner (beautfully played by EmmanuelleSeigner) assisting his lover to communicate with him by telephone. Another is the incredible Max Von Sydow in a riveting performance as the elderly heart-broken father.
The film is based on a true story and it must have been an enormous challenge to bring this story to the screen. Julian Schnabel directed the amazing cast and brought an artistry to the project that is extremely rare in film making. To capture the world as seen through the eye of a paralyzed man and make it so fascinating took enormous skill.
I was captivated and enchanted and would definitely see it again. 9 out of 10. Not to be missed.
Saw this last night in Brussels (it's been on release for a while now). I was worried that it would be arty and depressing, but I was pleasantly surprised by how absorbing and moving it was. The opening scenes are striking, and communicate well the main character's feelings of claustrophobia and helplessness in the immediate aftermath of his accident, but as he attempts to rebuild his life and learn how to communicate, the film (and the visual style) opens up, even making room for some welcome flashes of humour. Performances are excellent, but the real stars here are the writer(s) and director, for taking us so convincingly into the character's world.
How much do we really communicate? Can you tell me what you're
thinking? What you're feeling? Not an approximation, but exactly? To
find a common language, a window of trust, and to communicate
experience! To see inside the mind of an artist. Or for the artist,
ours. If we find that common wavelength, can we dive in? Let the
'butterfly' take flight from its dark chrysalis? The interior world of
another. The inscrutable depth of another person's individuality.
The first movie I saw by neo-expressionist painter Julian Schnabel was Before Night Falls. In that film, the artist was trapped in prison, quite literally. Which presented great communication difficulties for him (in giving life to his novel in the world). In this film, we have examples of people trapped or imprisoned in different ways. A man who had been taken hostage in Beirut. An ailing father who has difficulty climbing stairs to and from his apartment. Both are trying to reach out to the main protagonist. Bauby. An amazing and successful socialite who's in his very own 'prison.' Bauby has secured a publishing contract when tragedy hits. A stroke causes 'locked in' syndrome and he reviews his options as an author. The book he writes, and on which this film is based, is the one he is remembered for. I haven't read it. But his powers of expression, glimpsed in the film, make me want to buy it. The book he nearly wrote - a re-write of the Count of Monte Cristo - would probably be pulped. (But I wonder if that was poetic embellishment - Dumas was the first person to describe locked in syndrome in the person of Monsieur Noirtier de Villeforte, a Cristo character).
How many people know of Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor of Elle fashion magazine? It doesn't matter. But what does matter is experiencing his ability to discern, his articulate vision of beauty. Not as science, but as an education of the senses (and this is a sensuous and evocative film).
Why is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly so successful? A French language film picking up four Oscar nominations is remarkable. (The American director insisted on authenticity and made it in France and in French.) I suspect the consummate vocabulary of metaphor it uses is partly responsible. It makes the challenge facing Bauby a global one and relevant to everyone's life. None of us communicates perfectly, after all. Words left unsaid, to friends, to lovers, because we didn't find the 'right' words.
The speech therapist who breaks through Bauby's barrier is excellent. Her motivation is, here is a man she respects and admires. It is also the biggest challenge of her career. Bauby's sense of humour, voiced as interior dialogue, is scathing. His lecherous thoughts about the therapist are tempered with good taste and his incorrect jokes about his own condition.
Bauby starts to write his novel and his sense of poetry bursts through. We feel a glimmer of a mental rush associated with artists, explorers and adventurers. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the adventure of life and death. Not in Hollywood terms with big explosions. But with sensitivities, with meanings. It has a 'reach out and touch' quality. A Laughing Buddha whose joke we've missed (but might catch on another occasion). It is the most awesomely beautiful film I have seen for a long while.
Schnabel's thing might be helping us taste something we might otherwise let go unnoticed. In Basquiat, he introduced many people to the artist Basquiat, but also to the revered and misunderstood Warhol. (And if you want to understand someone as weird as Warhol, understanding the contemporaneous and only slightly weird - Basquiat is maybe a good place to start.) Here, his insight is transcendent. The film is a work of art. About a work of art. The use of visual metaphor and an excellent script lets us use Bauby's condition symbolically. Ingenious editing keeps us on the edge of our seat, especially towards the resolution, as we race to work out how a drive in the countryside will end.
The only scene I could find a flaw in was where he shaves his father. The sound of the rasping blade as he shaved his dad troubled me if it was added afterwards I think it was overdone and distracting. But the scene was an emotional building block. And much of our story is told like this, through flashbacks. With his beautiful ex-wife. With his children. With his lover. And with his father. People with whom, like most of us, he still has one or two little unresolved issues. They made me wonder if we make too little effort to communicate when it seems easy to do so.
The film successfully mixes a down-to-earth style, great special effects to see through Bauby's one remaining eye, and jaw-dropping montage. As we observe mundane details of our hero's life falling apart or reaching fulfilment, the camera cuts to ice fields collapsing into the sea or winding back in reverse motion. Or there will be a sudden switch to sensuality as he guzzles wine and oysters in a swank restaurant, feeding and being fed by his lover. Janusz Kaminski, the cinematographer for countless Steven Spielberg's, excels, as does Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood.
It should perhaps be noted that the film has not been immune to attempted high-jacks by groups with their own agendas. The Catholic News Service hailed its 'life-affirming qualities' compared to another great film it denigrates, The Sea Inside. Although locked-in state is a rare condition, few individuals experiencing it are likely to have the wealth and resources, public acclaim and reason to live that Bauby had. The situation of Ramon Sanpedro (The Sea Inside) might be a more common one.
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is a jewel of a French film with a story that impacts an audience with an appreciation for life (the butterfly) and for the despair of what may happen if a tragedy might befall you (the diving bell)with the beautiful landscapes of France as a backdrop. The lighting and photography enhance the film, and the faces of the French women are wondrous to behold as the story unfolds on the screen. This film deserves all the accolades that it has received in a story which is spellbinding and emotional. The cast is superb, the scenes that depict the father and son are very real and show the importance of acceptance of father for son, which is carried down to his own children, and the final scenes leave you with a great respect for the writer and his story. Merci beau coup, Ronald Harwood, for delivering this story to the screen.
The immersion into the life of a man that is a part of a horrific
event, where just about all seems lost and where he becomes literally
trapped with in his own body can be heart-achingly depressing, however,
it was actually, due to poetic direction, a mesmerizing, stylistic and
somewhat uplifting story. The air was a little sweeter, after the
viewing since life becomes more appreciated. This movie helps you
appreciate the finer things in life and realize all that we take for
Giving the film a surreal feel as though in a dream we witness a collage of memories, imaginations and actual dreams. From this, along with actual visits from loved ones we get an understanding of the man's life before the accident. It is filmed from the stroke victim's point of view. You see exactly what he sees, such as when his eye gets weak and things get blurry. We are also exposed to the man's thoughts as we hear him talking to the people about his feelings and what he wants to say despite being mute, and not being heard by the people. His thoughts give realness to the character and show us that he is still human. He even finds humor in his situation and says, to the nurse that doesn't hear him, "you need to get a sense of humor".
Overall a message about life. At the peak of this mans life an extremely severe paralysis befalls him. At first understandably pitying himself he is able to find some humor in his situation, (and parts of the movie actually make you laugh) and then inspiration. Inspiration stemming from realization that his imagination and memory are in tact. He can feel good using his mind and can even be creative and productive.
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