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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.
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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Waking up from a stroke is terrible, but waking up as someone else is
even more shocking.
Jean-Dominique knew himself but didn't recognize the person he became after his stroke, which had left him with locked-in syndrome. He wanted to piece together what had happened to him and what he was left with, which allowed him to appreciate the fact that he was indeed still alive and surrounded by people who genuinely loved him. Locked-in syndrome might seem like the end all be all but Jean-Dominique had such a humbling and good sense of humor about it.
We become Jean-Dominique from the beginning, played wonderfully by Mathieu Amalric, in this point-of-view subtitled masterpiece, living our last days in a French hospital with only gorgeous rolling hillsides, countryside, beaches, and glaciers to look at. As the editor of Elle we can only expect a lifestyle of luxury and also not be surprised by the amorous affairs of such a charismatic figure.
He eventually started working on a book with one of his caretakers, Claude- by which the method of writing was that he dictated sentences with his one remaining eye to her. I believe that she grew to love him, and he may have perhaps loved her in a way as well (as we can see by some of what he dictates to her and the point-of-view shots of him frequently checking her out). The relationships that he formed with his caretakers as well as with the mother of his children, Celine, who still loved him despite what they had been through, were beautiful yet agonizing to watch.
Every time an airy tune started to play, we were whisked off into a sort of Jean-Do oyster-eating sexual fantasy or uplifting flash back, but then the music was abruptly cut off and we went back to being trapped again. (By last time this happened I was starting to anticipate it.)
I am impressed by Julian Schnabel's ability to allow us to become fully absorbed in Jean Dominique's life and not holding anything back, no matter how hard it may have been to watch. He did justice to Basquiat as well. I honestly don't think most Americans can appreciate this honest sort of cinema, but I hope that this will gain a wide release, or be distributed however Julian Schnabel would like it to.
I plan on reading Jean-Dominique's book now, as it seems to be a beautiful manuscript.
The former France ELLE editor Jean-Dominique Bauby quoted his life as
being trapped in a diving bell and free like a butterfly, and that was
how he describes his life after a stroke left him only able to blink
his left eye. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly has become the title of
his memoirs, which has become a best seller which Bauby will never get
American born director Julian Schnabel picked up the memoir and made it into a movie that will re-examine the way a person will view his life. From the way the movie was presented to the audience, it might seems to be difficult to digest, but if you watch them once again, you will find that the flow of the movie follows closely to what is written on the book.
The story begins with Jean Dominique (Mathieu Amalric) finding himself woke up in a hospital,unable to move his body. Upon hearing from the doctor that a stroke left him unable to move, except his left eye, he found himself trapped in a prison: his body. He describes his body as a diving bell, where death sentence prisoner would wore the diving bell and drowned in the sea. With doctors and therapists taking care of him, he found himself living without dignity.
With the help of Henriteet (Marie Jozee Croze), a speech therapist, she uses a unique method of communicating with Jean thru pronouncing the alphabets and Jean would form a word or sentence by blinking the eye. After getting to know her much more better, Jean found his way to survive thru the disabilities: imagination and beautiful memories. Both set his spirit free, and he feels like he is flying like a butterfly. And thus he began writing his memoirs of his life.
The story is told through the view from Jean's left eye and reaction in his mind after the stroke. This pulls the audience and the inner world of Jean closer, and audience could have a feel of putting themselves into Jean's shoes. From the effort the cast and crew puts in the movie, we can tell that the movie is follow everything accordingly to the book, without any adjustments.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the movie that you need if you want to take a break from normal popcorn flicks, or a movie that makes you think through about yourself, and how you live life to the fullest.
Its incredible how persistent the French film industry is. Year after
year, day after day, they never give up and unleash to the world their
new crop of mediocre dramas that impress the pseudo intellectuals.
Here we have a typical melodrama that follows all the typical patterns of melodrama films. That's it. Period.
I have seem people say that this film is one of the best ever made. Please, try watching some serious stuff, like Apocalipse Now, 8 1/2, Spirited Away and 2001 (to restrict myself to obvious masterpieces) before making such ludicrous claims. If one does say that these films are boring or don't make sense, that's only because one failed to understand them. Period.
After checking out the excellent reviews here, this movie sounded too
good to pass up, so I rented it. After an uncomfortable first 10-15
minutes, I wondered if I been hoodwinked.....but no, I hadn't. The film
got better and better and when it over, I felt I had watched something
This is simply great film-making, and I can see why it was an award-winner in multiple categories. You can start with the photography, which is fantastic. The direction is innovative, which ads to the cinematography and the story, once you're hooked in, will not let you go, so big-time props for the writers, too. Even if the subject matter (paralysis) is difficult you want to keep watching to find out how much progress "Jean-Dominique Bauby" (Mathieu Amalric) will make.
In addition to wonderful direction and visuals, what I'll always take from this film is (1) the incredible patience of the speech therapists (which includes Celine, his wife) and (2) continually wondering how frustrated Jean-Do must have felt in his horrible physical condition.
All the actors were very good in this film. Amalric was so realistic I could have taken him for the real-life person. My personal favorite was speech therapist "Henriette Roi," played by Marie-Josee Croze. More important than her beauty, the concern and the kindness on her face day after day was inspiring. Meanwhile, veteran acor Max von Sydow was mesmerizing as Jean-Do's father.
One of the scary "sermons" of this based-on-a-true-life story is that most of us take life and all the little things in it, for granted each day.
Overall, a very memorable movie and one which lived up to the hype.
Because film is a largely realistic medium, "impressionism" is a style
rarely attempted by even the most adventurous of movie makers. Indeed,
Terrance Malick is one of the few directors working today who has found
consistent success (artistic if not commercial) in that genre. Now we
can add French filmmaker Julian Schnabel to the list for his truly
remarkable work in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," a movie that
defies easy categorization and is quite unlike anything we've
The story definitely falls into the "truth is stranger than fiction" category. Jean-Dominique Bauby was a 43-year-old writer and editor-in-chief of Elle Magazine when, in 1995, he suffered a massive stroke that left him completely paralyzed in all but his left eye. Confined to a bed and a wheelchair and unable to speak or move, all Bauby could do was look out on the world around him without any real hope of ever being able to communicate beyond a simple batting of the eyelid in response to a string of "yes or no" questions. However, thanks to the ingenuity of one of his therapists, Bauby eventually found a way - by painstakingly spelling out each word one letter at a time - to not only communicate fully with those around him but to actually dictate an entire best-selling book with the use of his one eye.
For the first twenty minutes or so, we see the world only as Bauby does, from the severely limited viewpoint of his one good eye, as he wakes up from his coma and begins to slowly realize what has happened to him. As the story progresses, Schnabel gradually allows us to escape Bauby's bodily prison and to see the events from a more objective angle. From that point on, we split our time fairly evenly between these two perspectives.
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" could have been a mere "gimmick film" were it not for the tremendously revelatory nature of Bauby's tale. Through voice-over narration, we are able to enter into Bauby's mind to explore the many thoughts and moods that enlighten or plague him. At first, of course, Bauby is filled with a sense of hopelessness and despair, telling his therapist early on that the one thing he wishes for above all else is death However, as time goes on, Bauby begins to realize that, while his body may be trapped in a physical prison (a diving bell), his mind is now free to soar as never before into the realm of fantasy, imagination and memory (the butterfly). Forced to remove himself from the petty concerns that so often overtake us in our daily lives, Bauby is now able to contemplate the things that REALLY matter in life: his love for his girlfriend and children; what it means to be a lover, a father to his children, a son to his aging father, etc. As such, the movie becomes a celebration of the ability of the human spirit to endure and flourish under even the most trying of circumstances. The impressionism comes as Schnabel follows the course of Bauby's dreams, visions, memories and imaginings as they come pouring out in virtual stream-of-consciousness fashion, always backed up by Bauby's lyrical contemplation on what they mean to him both as an individual and as a part of the collective human race.
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a movie overflowing with imagination and surprise, as when, out of nowhere, Schnabel and screenwriter Ronald Harwood insert a lovely little homage to the opening scene in "The 400 Blows." Conversely, the scene in which Bauby has his right eye sewn shut against his unheeded wishes is quite literally harrowing. Indeed, the movie is often at its most poignant in scenes where Bauby is completely at the mercy of what other people think is best for him, as when an unthinking orderly turns off a soccer match just as Bauby is really getting into it or a well-meaning therapist takes Bauby, an avowed atheist, to visit a Catholic priest. It is at times like these that he is closest to having his identity as an individual subsumed by his illness and the people around him.
Beyond the brilliant performances by Mathieu Amallic as Bauby, Max von Sydow as his 92-year-old father, and Emmanuelle Seigner as his longtime girlfriend, among others, special recognition must surely go to editor Juliette Welfling and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Spielberg's preferred cameraman) for the various miracles they have wrought in bringing this tightrope-walking tour-de-force to the screen.
Heartbreaking but never sentimental, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is that rare film that will haunt you for a long time after it's over and will make you look at life in a whole new way.
Imagine being left immobilized after a massive stroke, and having the
ability to move only your left eye. Such was the case of 43-year-old
French Elle magazine editor-in-chief Jean-Dominique Bauby in December
1995 when he awakened from a twenty-day coma to find himself mentally
active but physically paralyzed. To think he would have the wherewithal
to write a poignant and elegant memoir through the blink of his eye is
astounding, but he did it and the publication date of his book was a
mere two days before his death in 1997. It takes someone with
painter/filmmaker Julian Schnabel's ("Before Night Falls") visual flair
to bring such a fragile but empowering story to cinematic life, and
screenwriter Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist") has done a compelling job
translating Bauby's book into a highly charged story that complements
Schnabel's bold film-making choices.
The 2007 film begins with Bauby, known as Jean-Do to his friends, slipping in and out of consciousness, slowly realizing he has his faculties but cannot communicate with is doctors. The first half-hour shows only Bauby's viewpoint with his thoughts articulated through an interior monologue shared with the viewer. It's an intentionally constricted technique that Schnabel uses effectively to convey Bauby's helpless state. Four women play pivotal roles in his road toward at least partial recovery - speech therapist Henriette, who teaches him the blinking technique that enables him to communicate; physiotherapist Marie who demonstrates a series of tongue exercises that sets Bauby off on some hilariously profane thoughts; his estranged partner Céline who bore and raised his three children and is now willing to take on the role of caretaker; and finally Claude, the editor who has come to take dictation for the book Bauby promised to his publisher before his stroke. These encounters are intertwined with fantasy sequences and flashbacks where we see the fully functional Bauby. There are an excellent couple of scenes between Bauby and his curmudgeonly father that shows just how much son takes after father and how vibrant and flawed Bauby was before his paralysis.
The acting is outstanding beginning with Mathieu Amalric (the informant Louis in Steven Spielberg's "Munich") as Bauby. In a powerful, unsentimental performance that recalls the exalted levels achieved by Daniel Day-Lewis in "My Left Foot" and Javier Bardem in "The Sea Inside", the French actor conveys the fertile brain at work and the vibrant man that has been forcibly left behind. Amalric also shows how human-sized his character is, a philanderer who still manages to engender the devotion of those closest to him. The actresses playing the women - Marie-Josée Croze, Olatz Lopez Garmendia (Schnabel's real-life wife), Emmanuelle Seigner, and Anne Consigny are all strong if a bit interchangeable. The legendary Max Von Sydow steals his brief scenes as Bauby's homebound father. There is masterful work by Spielberg's longtime cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (his latest work is "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") seamlessly alternating between the reality and fantasy aspects of the narrative.
It is a remarkable film that on the surface, appears to focus on the traumatic effects of sensory deprivation, but evolves into a triumph of an eloquent soul yearning to share life's often harsh lessons with the world. Four bonus features are included in the 2008 DVD. The first is a standard, thirteen-minute making-of featurette, "Submerged: The Making of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" featuring the principal cast and crew as they share their thoughts on the production under Schnabel's direction. The second is the shorter "A Cinematic Vision", which describes what was done to convey Bauby's first-person point of view during the first part of the film. There is also a twenty-minute Charlie Rose interview with Schnabel from 2007, which turns out to be a lot more informative than the director's audio commentary on the film. Schnabel is disappointingly reticent with his observations, and it would have been good to have someone like Amalric or Harwood available to prompt greater insights. Regardless, it's a fine package for such an accomplished film. By the way, the diving bell of the title is refers to Bauby's horrendous physical limitations, and the butterfly represents his fertile imagination.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From Bauby's tragic memoir, Schnabel has produced an ambitious film
which succeeds on all levels. The problem facing Schnabel to bring the
book to the screen was how to keep the spectator interested beyond the
dramatic situation itself? To this end, he uses several solutions in
The first thirty minutes of the film are entirely shown in subjective camera. Without any mannerisms or filmic embellishment, Schnabel succeeds in making the spectator conscious of the patient's terrible situation and of his feelings facing his state of total helplessness. At this point, the transposition of our mind is such that the profound disquiet goes beyond simple empathy, becoming also physical.
Schnabel builds the suspense by progressively revealing the face of the patient. It takes about thirty minutes into the film before we get to clearly see Bauby's distorted, frozen face. From the very beginning of the film, we are not witnessing the story of a man, but we will be this man. But it would be pretentious to say that we will then understand him, the aim of the film being only to paint his intimate portrait, using this ingenious technique.
Following this long expository scene, the focus of the film now shifts toward Bauby's interaction with the people who surround him. These interactions are enough to make the Schnabel's film heartrending and less lyrical or pathetic as it progresses and becomes more of a narrative. This is certainly not a film gimmick to relieve the unbearably oppressive atmosphere crushing the viewers, but a means to keep their interest.
In what follows, we see episodes of Jean-Do's fantasies, a mixture of memories and dreams, some poignant and some comical or sexy, with some fantastic mises-en-scène.
Mathieu Almaric as Jean-Do is outstanding, and he bears a large responsibility for the film's success. Whether in the flashbacks and fantasies, or staring into the camera with his drooling face, frozen and yet so eloquent, or as the voice-over, as another aspect of the Jean-Do, mischievous, sardonic, despairing, lyrical, at no time in this film can Almaric's credibility be questioned.
An exceptional cast of supporting actors and actresses all provide intense richness of emotions, acting with restraint, with hints of modesty and shyness, contrasting with Jean-Do's absolute and candid thoughts. In particular, the four women are superb. Schnabel seems to have made them a little indistinguishable, since for Jean-Do, connected to life mostly through women, they must each have represented the eternal, untouchable feminine.
Scriptwriter Harwood succeeds rather well in pacing the story between immobility and action. However, the key to his success is in making the camera become the man. This is not a new idea, but neither is it a melodramatic gimmick here, and at precisely the right moment Harwood's perspective changes, and his film follows a little more closely the demands of a traditional biography. Friends and family from Bauby's life are introduced one by one, but never in a predictable way, nor based upon clichés.
Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski is brilliant. Rarely has the subjective camera been so well handled: camera out of focus to express the blurring caused by tears; the fades out to black corresponding to the blinking of the eyelid; the occasional leaning of the camera and the brusqueness of some trackings harmoniously fade the shots into the subjective camera. The sets are all spectacular. The image is at times out-of-focus, sometimes brilliant and colorful, sometimes blinding and off-center: this is truly the work of Schnabel, the painter.
Schnabel, perhaps by accident, provides a free endorsement for the French governmental health system. The whole film takes place on the backdrop of the public Maritime Hospital at Berk-sur-Mer. However, viewing the medical care provided to Bauby and the environment of the establishment, American audiences will be forgiven for thinking that this is a special private hospital where only well to do people, such as Bauby, are treated. Not so, this is simply a public hospital, typical of where any French person gets his or her free care.
Schnabel touches the question of continuity in relationships, when the other person becomes a mere shadow of his or her old self, in particular, when the relationship has been intense and at the same time fragile in time and faithfulness. This is raised in a heartbreaking scene, where Céline becomes the unwilling intermediary between Bauby and Inès.
Schnabel describes the souvenirs and bits of one's life that one must be seeing while standing before the gates of death, but in this particular case taking just a little longer. However, Bauby has already died, and has come back to life as an eye.
The film is also about what it means to be an artist. Sickness is a bit like genius, a source of misunderstanding and exclusion, and the artist, like the patient, is in constant battle against the outside world. To escape one's fate, society's cruelty and restraints, one can only rely on one's own intelligence, creativity, and heroism. By reaching deep within himself, Bauby extends his life beyond the limitations of his body by dreaming and creating a work of art. It's a face-off against himself, where the Superego, the butterfly, gains the upper hand over the Ego, the diving bell. Schnabel is a spiritual man, but not a religious one. He believes in the goodness of people, and in their capacity for being patient with their fellow humans and treating them well, just for the sake of it, the way the women in the film give freely of themselves, trying to help Jean-Do.
Finally, this film is a simple but powerful lesson about life, not in the moralistic sense, but in the energy it carries. As Bauby says at the beginning of the film, the lesson is that we should experience life, living in the present, learning to recognize and appreciate the small moments of happiness as they come along, and most importantly, to love.
The movie has a lot going for it... good acting and cinematography. And
I can feel compassion for Jean-Dominique Bauby's plight. After
suffering a massive stroke he lost the use of everything but his mind
and one eye. Yes, given his condition it was a marvel the was able to
write a book about his condition using nothing but an alphabet chart
and a blinking eye.
That being said, what the movie lacked was a compelling reason to keep watching. While all the tedious communication between Bauby and his nurses and family may have been historically accurate, it translates into tedious cinema. For me, this movie was as interesting as watching paint dry.
The ONLY part I found interesting was the reverse time photography during the final credits.
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