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Based on an autobiography, this is a fascinating story of the editor of Elle magazine, as he tries to find a purpose in life after becoming completely paralyzed except for the use of one eye. The acting is uniformly excellent: Almalric as Bauby, the stricken editor, Seigner, Croze, and Consigny as the women nursing him, and von Sydow as his father. It is initially filmed from the perspective of Almalric, with his blurry vision. This distorted perspective is rather annoying as it goes on a bit too long, but it serves its purpose, effectively conveying the life change that the character is undergoing. Ultimately, the film proves to be moving and rewarding.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Confession: I didn't much fancy this film. I'd read the rave reviews and was pretty sure that it would be a worthy and moving piece of work but being completely honest, did I really want to spend an evening watching a movie about some poor fellow who was paralysed and unable to walk, talk or move anything other than an eyelid? It may be a true (ish) story but it doesn't exactly sound like two hours of entertainment, does it? I finally gave it a try - nothing much better to do - and I was really pleased that I did. It is obviously a moving and emotional story but more than that, it is funny, entertaining, sometimes beautiful to watch and has that charm of the best French cinema. Like many fine films from around the world, it features fairly ordinary people in situations which the likes of you and I can identify with - real people in a beautiful but sometimes cruel world. OK, our man did have a pretty good job and a glamorous lifestyle and did have the money to do things that a poor/working class person wouldn't. Let's face it however, this may contribute to a better looking and more interesting film but wouldn't make a whole lot of difference to the quality of your life following such a horrible trauma. Great cinema but a really rewarding and memorable evening. Don't be like me and form a prejudice view of what to expect before you've seen it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie astonished me. I was taken aback by its ability to make the
viewer feel like a stroke victim with "locked-in syndrome," who goes
from a "fast" lifestyle as the editor of Elle magazine with a number of
beautiful women and three kids to a vegetable who cannot speak or move.
The colors are ravishing; they reminded me of the pale, dry colors of
Renaissance artwork. The women in the movie are all beautiful, and its
depiction of hospital life is sobering, but ultimately rejuvenated my
desire to live.
Schnabel, a painter, exhibits his visual prowess in images rich with emotion and a sense of presence. Each shot is bold and striking. The movie fuses a poetic sensibility with a knowledge of current cinematic techniques and styles.
I highly recommend seeing this movie.
So creative and imaginative in its cinematography and directing! This
is definitely one of the most original films of its time.
The narrator's story is entirely compelling, showcasing the human spirit overcoming adversity in great depth. There is such compassion and beauty shown even in the most difficult circumstances... It all lays the groundwork for some truly great performances.
That, along with the stunning landscapes and gorgeous cinematography, the whole film is, simply put, cinematic brilliance.
It is truly an experience that will live with you long afterwards. I cannot recommend this enough!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's interesting to think about what 'reality' actually is. It's
commonly accepted that reality is a natural perception of the
environment around us. It requires ALL of the senses combined to
achieve the common 'human' reality.
Mr. Bauby has a cerebrovascular accident and as result, becomes paralyzed from head to toe... with the exception of his eye. He can look around, he can blink for 'yes or no' He can still hear. He just can't move an inch.
Bauby becomes 'the spectator'. Most of the movie is from the view of his one operational eye. It's extremely unsettling at first. I don't know if I could tolerate the film if it was from this 'key-hole camera' view the whole way through.
The movie gives you a break from Mr. Bauby's prison from time to time. It's a relief to see things from a different perspective after awhile.
He begins to write a book/poem with the help with his caregiver/speech therapist. She reads off letters from the alphabet and he blinks for the one he wants. It's a pretty painstaking system. The movie really conveys how people can communicate in even the most miniscule form. When in conversation, his therapist can 'solve' words he's trying to spell. This speeds things up.
Anyhow, his poem compares his level of interaction with the idea of being in an old pre-scuba diving suit. Falling, traveling without moving, unable to move, the only thing to do is watch events unfold around him.
The movie is beautiful, and it's easy to fall in love with Bauby.
Though, watching this movie makes me feel heavy in the chest. I become claustrophobic whenever I'm subjected to the long shots from his point of view.
Bauby is the spectator.
This is an important film. This film has the potential to do for cinema
what the Nouvelle Vague did, namely redefine it. This is the film that
should define the next age of movies. It is unlike anything that has
previously been made. I don't think I can stress how important this
film could be. So far, it hasn't proved very influential, but hopefully
soon people will get it.
It is the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), former editor of Elle magazine. He had a massive stroke and experienced locked-in syndrome, leaving him almost totally paralyzed except for his left eye, and his tongue some, and he could cry, so it's not a completely My Left Foot situation. And while he is paralyzed he writes a book, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, or in English, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The diving bell because he is trapped in his body, like he's in a diving bell underwater. And butterfly, well you'll know if you watch.
Bauby's story is really remarkable, because of him and the people around him. His book is very inspiring, and very beautiful. However, the movie says miles more about his life than the book. The book is more a rumination. In it, he doesn't mention various unpleasant parts of his life. It's more ruminations on his situation. It doesn't make a great movie, which is why, I suppose the film went more into his life and specific instances. Or they made them up. I hope not though. Because this film seems like the most honest film I've ever seen.
But what's really noteworthy about the film is its direction, by the genius named Julian Schnabel. Over half the movie is from Bauby's point of view, his left eye, his only source of information or form of communication. In this film, you become Bauby. His eyes are your own, only interrupted by his thoughts occasionally, enough to guide you through the narrative, through the emotions that come with this syndrome, something we can't imagine. And it's filled with beautiful images, imagination, and just... beauty. It's a beautiful film. Not really inspiring... it's hard to be inspired, but it's more heroic. And just beautiful.
I don't understand how the academy voted No Country for Old Men for direction over this film. The Cohen brothers have nothing on Schnabel.
The actors and actresses are very natural. They'll always be ingrained in my head as the faces of the people in this situation.
However, it is a little slow and meandering and incoherent at times. Indie movie fans will say, "It doesn't conform to Hollywood's standards." And that's all well and fine, but Hollywood usually gets the story across. Hollywood wouldn't be around so long if they didn't get something right. Indie movies need to do the same, but the genius comes when they do it in a different way and get it right. This film needs more focus. I eagerly await Schnabel's next project, Miral, but I somehow feel as if the time has passed. Le Scaphandre et le Papillon was a once in a lifetime thing. A unique film in every way, so unique, I'm not sure if Schnabel can replicate the vision in this, because every other film he makes will require a different vision than this film. But maybe Schnabel will prove he can adapt to other movies.
All in all, this is the most amazingly directed film of the past few decades. Hopefully movies will follow the trend of this one. Julian Schnabel is a genius. Also as a side note, sort of, this movie is ten trillion times better if you know French and watch it without the subtitles. I have three years of French and could understand it pretty well. It just really, really helps with the feel and to appreciate the artistry and everything. It's still amazing without that knowledge.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I began watching this movie with no notion of what it was all about.
The title is weird and made no apparent sense. But this movie ranked
very high in a recent listing of Best Foreign Language Films this
decade, so I decided to watch it.
The plot becomes apparent early on as the the lead character Elle Magazine hotshot publisher Jean-Do Bauby wakes up from a 20 day coma following a severe cerebro-vascular accident. He had "locked in syndrome", a rare condition where his mind is alert but he rest of his body is paralyzed save for one good eye.
His dedicated speech therapist Henriette develops a system of communication where she would say the most common letters of the alphabet and he would blink to indicate the letter he wanted to use, spelling out words. From a frustratingly slow start, Bauby was able to spell out an entire book in this tedious manner, recounting his thoughts during his harrowing ordeal (with the very patient assistance of Claude, his transcriber). The title refers to Bauby's feeling of his body trapped in a a sinking diving bell, but his imagination and memory are free as a butterfly.
You can imagine here that there really is not much action in this basic plot. The triumph of this movie clearly belongs to the artistic vision of the director, Julian Schnabel. In Schnabel's interpretation, we see the world through Bauby's one good eye. In one most unique sequence, when his palsied eye needed to be sutured shut to prevent infection, we see the needle piercing the lids until the screen becomes black. Amazing scene.
My favorite scenes were those that involved the senior Bauby, Jean-Do's father, very well portrayed with fitting dignity by the legendary Max Von Sydow. There was also a very touching scene set on the beach, when Jean-Do meets his children for the first time since the stroke. The whole beautiful scene was very well-photographed and scored. Jean-Do's long-suffering ex-wife Celine was excellently played by Emmanuelle Seigner. Her dramatic highlight came towards the end when Jean-Do's mistress Ines calls, and Celine had the emotionally-tough job of having to interpret! This movie is very slow and quiet as you can deduce. A lot of ideas had to expressed via voice-over by Jean-Do's healthy mind and rich imagination. This might not be easy for everyone to sit through for the whole two hours or so. But for those who do, the patience and time spent will be well worth it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Julian Schnabel is one of the best visual artists of all time. his talent for painting and just art in general translates to the screen perfectly. i cried throughout this whole film. my god i cant believe its a true story. who could ever imagine getting locked in their body, its so hard to believe that can happen to someone. the lead character was fantastic and the actresses that played the nurses where great. wow wow wow wow. a truly moving film. its a true testament to the whole " you can do anything you put your mind to". fantastic, i cant believe this guy wasn't even nominated for best actor in a leading role. go see rent this now and ball your eyes out.
From start to finish, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a
fascinating film. It is a captivating and emotional story shot
impressively in first person for much of its duration to mimic the
eyesight of its main character, French former Elle magazine editor
Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffers a terrible incident that leaves him
paralyzed with the exception of his left eye.
The premise alone is rich with potential commentary on the human condition. Add to that that this film is based on a book that was written by Bauby by blinking his thoughts to a scribe, and the story becomes all the more fascinating. The film begins when Bauby (Matthew Amalric) awakens after being in a coma for three weeks and follows his time in the hospital learning to live with his condition where he forges relationships with hospital staff and redefines new ones with friends and family.
It's really easy to pity Bauby the entire time, but this film challenges you to see him as being just as flawed as any of us. Although the story hardly dwells in Bauby's past, choosing to focus more on how his accident complicates his life, you still get the sense that there are things not to like about him. Amalric mostly lends his talents as a narrator, vocalizing Bauby's thoughts, providing us cues about his character through mere inflection--an impressive feat.
But nothing in the film can outshine the work that director Julian Schnabel has done. In tandem with the legendary Janusz Kaminski, "Diving Bell" is visually profound. When the film is in first person, you unquestionably believe that you are seeing things as Bauby sees them. The blur, coming in and out of focus, the movement--it's incredible how lifelike it is and so naturally you start to empathize with Bauby instantly. As the film progresses and you know more of who he is, there is more traditional third person work and we get a much more objective look at Bauby.
"Diving Bell" also does a great job of creating relationships. There's Bauby's relationship with the mother of his three children (whom he never married), his relationship with his very old father who he definitely had a rocky past with because of his father's infidelity and there are the couple of therapists and the scribe--three beautiful women that inspire him in their own way. Each is so unique, especially because of how Bauby's condition changes it or poses challenges to it. For example, the fact that he can be attracted to all these women but not feel it makes for a unique sexual tension.
Thematically, the film is a bit difficult to understand, but so is Bauby. His imagination is his only salvation from his condition. He envisions being places and doing things as his only way of escaping depression, so his mind imagines some strange things that when interpreted from novel to film makes for equally strange images. But at film's end, while there's no true emotional climax, you feel you've gained a great deal of insight into both the story and even life in general. There's a somewhat uncomfortable but very real tone of optimism to the film, which makes it so unique. It is also an amazing example of an American film in a foreign language, one that still feels essentially French despite not being brought to life by French minds.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is all about a man with 'closed in'
syndrome; a scenario that limits one to the restraints of a wheelchair
and a bed at the best of times as everyone else must wait on you.
Despite this situation or this premise, it's to the director's great
credit that we feel as moved and as galvanised as we do once the film
has ended and despite such a restricting scenario, we really feel we
have been taken somewhere by the time the credits roll. While
influenced by the book of the same name by the Frenchman suffering from
the syndrome in question Jean-Dominique Bauby, the film is more a study
on the struggles of the 'making of' said book although the film still
manages to include enough content about Bauby's past to get across a
feeling of time passing.
But, you come away with a feeling that the focus was more on the later life Bauby lived. For me, the fact he managed to write this book through blinking his eye and as an individual with such a syndrome, and how he got through the initial realisation of the syndrome and built up the stamina and patience to do this is more interesting than the thoroughly engaging life complete with family ties et al I'm sure he lived. Yes, he had marital problems and his relationship with his father is touched on and yes, an event as incredible as retiring one's aeroplane seat for someone else only for them to be held hostage in Beruit because of it is all interesting stuff of a dramatic and humbling nature, but the focus is on the struggles of writing the book and the film balances these two equilibriums brilliantly.
Jean-Dominique Bauby is played by Mathieu Amalric, a man whose initial cynical approach to his surroundings is both funny and yet sees him in a brief state of both denial and disbelief as he comes to terms with both not being able to speak or move. Director Julian Schnabel immediately places us within the eyes of Bauby, beginning with a blurred and distorted mass of colours and figures from a hospital bed perspective. His cynical and slightly less than enthusiastic responses to most things tempt us to chuckle at the subject matter and this situation we have been thrust into, thus achieving the juxtaposition he sets out to do.
The focus is on Bauby's journey, even though he only ever actually covers about fifty feet within the film's present tense. It is his own journey that we observe through his own memories. Now that he is placed in the predicament he's in, he has time to think back and recollect about his life and a string of stirring and slightly humbling memories and real life encounters with people from his past inspire him to take up a writing contract with a publishing company he is still linked to. In-between Bauby's flashbacks are shots of ice glaciers falling into the sea, perhaps a metaphor for his health or something else and it is only at the end when he has achieved what he set out to do that we see the glaciers resurrecting and becoming as one again that we feel he has made peace with himself.
The closed in syndrome allows Bauby to spend time with himself more than anyone else. He is given the opportunity, forced even, into regressing and feeling pains of guilt at his friend's capture in Beruit and the consequent ignorance to not get in touch following his release. It is a coming of age of sorts; a realisation or an epiphany he is forced to confront following his 'Elle' lifestyle during which fast cars, the high life and lots of glamorous models occupied most of his time. It feels as if Bauby never took the time to get real; never took the time to step back and observe what he was doing but has since recognised his actions and done something about it. Indeed, his early request for euthanasia seems to be placed on a back-burner before dissipating completely when he realises there are wrongs to be made right.
During Bauby's journey, we will see him sitting on a platform, still in his wheelchair, as a roaring ocean rages around him. He is marooned on this platform, stuck as the sea carries on around him and all this activity is so close and yet he can only sit there and observe. It is a parallel between life continuing to go on around him and the fact he can no longer engage with it in the way he'd like to which in turn is related to the humbling nature of his syndrome, a realisation that he must now look at life from another perspective and continue to right wrongs.
Schnabel's direction is solid, never veering away from the subject matter and having Bauby distracted by anything else other than his book and the needing feeling he has to write. Schnabel feels the need to include surrealistic dream sequences and a particularly nasty scene involving sewing but it isn't there to shock or scare as much as it is establishing this nightmare of a scenario we're engaged in. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a very humbling film, in which scenes are dedicated to things you see as luxuries, such as engaging with one's family or watching football on television, made very difficult to actually engage in. Schnabel's wonderful approach to the material and focused direction twinned with numerous particularly engaging scenes make the film a winner.
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