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*** 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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There is little doubt that this film is an excellent film when judge by
most criteria, and yet there is something about it that stopped me for
really embracing it to my heart and loving it like so many others have.
The photographic technique used from the start of the film to give us, the viewers, the same sense of disorientation and confusion that the main character feels on waking from his coma works wonderfully. Like Jean-Do Bauby himself we have to piece the narrative together ourselves, which we do with the help of his returning memory, the visits from his 'wife' and children, the beautiful physio and speech therapist and the telephone calls from his aged father and his mistress etc. As we piece the narrative together we learn more about this paralysed man, his past, his fears and his hopes for a non-existence future.
As you would expect from a film of this class the acting is superb, with Mathieu Amalric as Jean-Do outstanding, bringing a real dignity to the role. It was also good to see Max Von Sydow as Papinou, Jean-Do father, showing us an elderly man as trapped in his flat as much as his son is trapped inside his body.
So then, given all this, why did I not take to the film as much as I would have expected to? It is difficult to explain, but I felt distanced from the main character, who before and after his stroke occupied a world as foreign to myself as any strange lands. Also, because the other characters all played second fiddle to Jean-Do I did not feel as much drama between them as I felt there must have been in reality (this is, after all, based upon true events). Finally the 'tear jerking' phone call between father and son - via the interpretor and "writer" of the book - felt somehow flat and lacking in real emotional depth. Maybe on the night I watched it I was not in the right mood, or maybe the film just failed to hit the right note for me, but either way it was a film I came out off feeling more admiration for rather than real affection.
The subject matter of the film sounded such hardship that it may not be
'palatable', easy to swallow. When I did go see the film, I thoroughly
felt what a wonderfully delivered thoughtful film in spite of the tough
subject: a successful man of forty-three surviving a paralyzing stroke
with just one eye, against all odds, being able to live on and blinked
through delivery of a book/novel, interacting with other caring family,
friends and nursing professionals, continuing to thrive beyond
Thanks to director Julian Schnabel's passion and focused energy, along with his collaborators on this film-making experience, we are given the opportunity to see, yes, literally so, from the point of view of Elle Paris editor-in-chief Jean-Dominique Bauby's one left eye, the limited vision, activity - single eyelid movement to be exact - a means which he come to terms with and coping steadily, optimizing the improbable solution to an impossible situation, reaching out for his dreams and fantasies. In essence, this is an uplifting journey of a film, boldly daring us to patiently go along with the trials and triumphs in the survival times of 'Jean-Do' Bauby.
A diving bell: restraining diving suit ('scaphandre') hopelessly sunken into a dismal abyss, and a fluttering butterfly hopefully alights upon an 'unmovable' you, prompting fanciful delights and living on the seemingly impossible possible for a paraplegic with only one active eye.
Bauby is skillfully portrayed, also through the perceptive approach of voice-over, by French actor Mathieu Almaric (who can be seen as Ismail, brilliantly played opposite Emmanuelle Devos' Nora in w-d Arnauld Desplechin's "Kings and Queen" aka "Rois et Reine" 2004). Fabulous supporting cast, including Emmanuelle Seigner as Celine, the mother of Bauby's children, and veteran actor Max Von Sydow as Bauby's Papinou. Poignant screenplay by Ron Harwood. Appreciate director Schnabel's creative and artistic delivery of this film project, taking appropriate pacing with the hospital recovery segments, down to the details of the equipment and the special alphabet decoding approach used in the unique communication between Bauby and the 'external' parties in his 'new and constrained' world. Ah, learning something new can be a life force, as Dr. Daniel G. Amen's book "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life" pointed out: one's mindset and how we continuously use our brain sure contributes to living happiness, be it 'blinkingly' so.
"Diving Bell and the Butterfly" aptly delivered in French (with competent subtitles translation by A. Whitelaw & N. Palmer), is a film experience highly recommended - not difficult to view after all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are many ways that you can be trapped. You could be trapped in a
job you hate. You could be trapped in an unloving relationship. Or you
could be literally trapped you could be held hostage or you could be
imprisoned. But perhaps more terrifying than all of these is to be
trapped in your own body. To have your mental faculties left intact but
to be unable to move or communicate properly.
This is what happens to Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of Elle Magazine. At the age of 43 he suffers a massive stroke and is unable to move and unable to talk. The only way that he can express himself is by blinking one of his eyes.
The opening scenes are magnificent in the way that they capture the terror of the situation. Everything is shot from Jean-Dom's perspective. We see his blurred vision and we hear how distorted his hearing has become. But we also hear his thoughts. Inside this shell is a man a man completely preserved. Therefore it's not unusual that Jean-Dom screams inside his head when the doctors talk to him and they don't hear the words he thinks he's saying.
One of the scariest scenes occurs early on. Jean-Dom's left eye is fine but his right eye is immobile. Therefore, seeing as he can't blink it, it needs to be closed up so that it doesn't get infected. From Jean-Dom's perspective we see his eye get sewn up. All the time he's screaming but the male nurse can only blather supposedly comforting words about his skiing holiday. Part of Jean-Dom's word is being narrowed even further. He's in danger of disappearing within himself.
The only salvation is that he can move his good eye. Because of this, he and his therapists are able to communicate the therapist goes through the alphabet and Jean-Dom blinks when the person gets to the word. It's an excruciatingly slow way of communicating, kind of like extreme text messaging, but it allows Jean-Dom to finally express himself. And the first thing that he says, in response to his therapist asking him what he wants, is 'death'. This upsets his therapist terribly, who has worked long and hard with her patient, but it's an understandable emotion. Here's a man who was in complete control of his destiny. He'd managed to do very well for himself. But then it was taken away.
But maybe Jean-Dom had done something to upset the gods? Maybe he deserved this? Well, he wasn't a saint. He had a broken marriage and he had a stormy relationship with his girlfriend, but nothing he did warranted this. Therefore it was just bad luck, which is perhaps the least comforting thing in the world.
There's a good scene where Jean-Dom is taken to see a priest. A weaker man would seek salvation in god; he'd relinquish control of his destiny and put it in the hands of someone else. But Jean-Dom's paralysis only strengthens his non-belief. Here are all these people praying for him and it's done nothing. The only people who can improve his condition are himself and those around him.
And it's the devotion of those people around Jean-Dom that is the most moving. His therapists help him to make progress, a woman from a publisher's takes his dictation for the book he writes about his condition, and his wife gives him love and support. However, his girlfriend won't come and see him. In an excruciating scene the girlfriend briefly has to communicate with Jean-Dom through his wife. But then his wife leaves briefly so that the girlfriend can speak alone on the telephone. She says how she still loves him but that she can't see him in that condition. One can't help but wonder why Jean-Dom loves her above his wife when she gives him so much and his girlfriend gives him so little. His girlfriend's non-appearance seems to me like a betrayal. But then again, it's almost impossible to fathom people. Jean-Dom loves her and that's that.
Another powerful scene is the one when Jean-Dom's father calls. There are no trite expressions of affection. There's just a very genuine feeling of sadness that a grown man is unable to help his son. And it's kind of a relationship that has been flipped on its head. In an earlier scene we seen Jean-Dom shave his father his dad is an invalid and can't leave his house. So now his father has to be the strong one again and is left reeling.
But in a strange way, Jean-Dom and his father are now in the same boat. Both are trapped. And it's kind of ironic that before his stroke, Jean-Dom wanted to write a modern interpretation of The Count of Monte Cristo. Now Jean-Dom and Edmond Dantes are truly alike. Both are prisoners. But unfortunately Jean-Dom never gets a chance to free himself. Ten days after his book is published, and after he's made progress, he dies of pneumonia. The end is moving because there are no false attempts to pull our heartstrings. We just feel the crushing unfairness and banality of a life being wasted for no reason whatsoever.
But another reason why the film works so well is because the film doesn't try and soften the character for us. Jean-Dom looks at the breasts of his attractive female therapists, his fantasies involve such wonderful delights as eating large banquets and making love to beautiful women, and despite everything he still ends up loving someone who is unworthy of him. He's forced to change the way that he communicates, but the man inside pretty much remains the same.
Le Scaphandre et le papillon (2007), directed by Julian Schnabel, was
shown in the U.S. with the title, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."
The film is based on a book written by Jean-Dominique Bauby, who had
led a charmed life. He was editor of the magazine Elle, had three
lovely children by his former common-law wife, and now has a young and
beautiful mistress. Then disaster strikes. Bauby has a stroke that
leaves his body almost totally immobilized, and his higher functions
intact. He can think, dream, imagine, create, but he can't move.
Actually--as is often the case with this medical condition--he can move
his eyelids. In order to communicate, he is taught to blink when
someone recites the proper letter. In that way he spells out words,
tediously, letter by letter. Believe it or not, he is able to dictate
an entire book in that way.
The acting in the film is extraordinary. I have nothing but respect for Mathieu Amalric who played the protagonist. Imagine having to spend an entire film--except for occasional flashbacks--communicating with the audience by blinking one eye! Emmanuelle Seigner was excellent as Céline Desmoulins, the mother of Bauby's children, and Marie-Josée Croze was very good as Henriette Durand, Bauby's therapist. Max von Sydow plays Bauby's father. What a great actor von Sydow is, and what a career he has had!
The problem with the film for me was that Bauby is not really someone I would choose for a friend. In fact, I think that if I had known him before his illness, I would have disliked him and avoided him. And, amazingly enough, during the course of the movie he is able to commit an act of true emotional cruelty. His condition--"locked-in syndrome"-- is so terrible that you can't be anything but sympathetic. Even so, the movie would have meant more to me if the pre-illness Bauby had been a caring, loving individual, rather than a selfish, egotistical one.
The extraordinary story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of "Elle"
magazine in Paris who suffered a stroke and was left unable to move
anything save his left eye, justifies a film adaptation purely because
it deserves to be heard far and wide. But this film deserves to be seen
in its own right. Poetic, engrossing and inventive, this is a
The first thing to say is that this film is perfectly enjoyable. Most films that deal with dreadful infirmity are difficult to watch because these things are unpleasant to think about. This film is the opposite of this as you are, from the first frame, put in the situation of the invalid, both with the visuals and the dialogue. Ronald Harwood's wonderful script employs Bauby as the narrator. He is humorous, poetic and entertaining and makes this potentially difficult film easy to watch. This is driven home by the cinematography of Janusz Kaminski, which is utterly inventive. It may not necessarily be beautiful to look at but it transports the viewer into the situation of the film with ease.
Kaminski is of course under the direction of Julian Schnabel who does a wonderful job here. His artistic sensitivities serve the film very well and, combined with Harwood's work on the script, he helps make this film the closest thing to poetry on screen that I've ever seen. It is beautiful to watch and to listen to. His editing is ingenious, truly evoking the sense of Bauby's inner eye whilst ensuring that we can move away and see the perspective of other characters.
It is of course an emotional piece, but it isn't a worthy one, a trait that can destroy films. This is partly thanks to the restrained acting. There isn't a single moment that can be described as over the top. Mathieu Amalric is brilliant as Bauby, and he is supported by a large number of excellent performances, including Max von Sydow who has a small but memorable part as Bauby's father.
This is a film that deserves a wide audience, and it can appeal to many people. Throughout its near two hour running time I never once looked at my watch. It is moving, poetic and surprisingly humorous, this film is thoroughly engrossing and a fitting tribute to an amazing story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After reading the former French Elle Magazine editor Jean-Dominique
Bauby's memoir, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, when it was first
published in 1997, I couldn't help wondering if it would be possible
for anyone to make a decent movie out of it. After watching the film
directed by Julian Schnabel, with a screenplay by Ronald Howard, I was
awestruck to acknowledge that not only had they made a decent film, but
a gorgeous and phenomenal one.
It makes sense that The Diving Bell and the Butterfly should shine on the big screen like the huge glowing miracle that it is because the fact that Bauby even "wrote" his book at all was itself nothing less than a king-sized miracle. A major stroke in his brain stem left him paralyzed with locked-in syndrome, a condition in which he was fully conscious but unable to move any part of his body except his left eye.
Whereas the shock of finding oneself in such a torturous state might have caused many to shut down completely, Bauby rose to the occasion within himself by the sheer power of will, spirit, and the loving compassion of others. His body, he noted, may have become like a heavy diving suit that weighed him down, but his mind became freedom personified, like a butterfly that floats at will through realms of intellect, memory, and imagination. Harnessing the resources at hand, he learned to dictate by indicating individual letters with the blink of an eye and managed to compose a small masterpiece
Actor and director Mathieu Amalric plays Bauby with deeply attractive humanity. Viewers first meet him from inside his head, so to speak, as he begins to regain consciousness and doctors gather to explain what has happened. Once the unsettling fact of his paralysis is painfully established, we move with the stream of Bauby's consciousness back and forth through scenes of high-energy photo shoots at Elle Magazine, memories of shaving his father, the complications of a love affair, and fantasies of intimate encounters with his lovely female therapists.
A particularly powerful element within this movie is the portrayal of Bauby's existential stubbornness. Ironically enough, prior to his stroke, he becomes angry with his lover when she insists they visit Lourdes, a place where divine healings reportedly often takes place. Still later, when in a wheelchair, a priest offers him communion and he signals to his therapist with a blink of his eye that he does not want it. Comically, his therapist ignores this and tells the priest he does. It is this determination to guard his sense of individual humanity that makes Bauby beautifully heroic, even though he would not describe himself as such.
Actress Emmanuelle Seigner plays Bauby's estranged wife Celine with subtle intensity and one marvels at the quiet dignity she brings to the part. Equally engaging in their supporting roles are Max Von Sydow as Bauby's father; Marie-Josée Croze as the therapist who teaches him to communicate with blinks of a single eye; and Isaach De Bankole as his visiting friend Laurent.
Both as a book and as a film, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is largely about the perspectives that we choose to apply to our lives. Though he suffered one of the worse fates imaginable, Bauby chose to believe his life was still a meaningful one and worked to produce a celebrated book that was published just 10 days before he died. Julian Schnabel's film is a work of cinematic poetry that honors both the man and the work through the very means that Bauby employed to live his final days: penetrating intelligence, inspired compassion, and luminous imagination.
by Author-Poet Aberjhani, author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again, and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I read the book before hand and usually I am VERY disappointed when books are adapted into screen plays, but this is EXCEPTIONAL! I have never cried and then laughed a second later. Jean-Do's outlook on life is an inspiration and very comical even though his condition is very depressing. I felt the movie really showcased Jean-Do's relationships with other characters, while the book doesn't really do some of the relationships justice. Both are equally moving and worthwhile. This is the best movie I have seen in a while and it is shocking to me that it did not receive all of the academy awards it was nominated for. The most powerful thing about this movie is that it is true and that Jean-Do wrote it all using his left eye. If only he could see the gorgeous movie his story was turned into.
The Diving Bell and the Buttefly is a terrific account of Jean-Dominic
Bauby's shocking condition. Locked-in-syndrome is something you could
only imagine in fiction, but the film offers up the reality of it to
The 'through the eyes of the character' camera shot has never appealed to me. It has always struck me as 'cheesy' and has never put across to me the emotion the director must be intending. The Diving Bell has finally changed that and it has done so in a remarkable way. No audience for any film will ever connect with a character as well as they will with Jean-Do. The cinematography throughout the film is outstanding and the artistic quality of it all is at times breathtaking. It doesn't take long to realise how effectively and realistically the director has captured perception in the real world. The 'darting' motion of the camera and the ways in which shots cut across different views of the environment, is very well thought-out, and is depicted with stunning grace for the screen.
Julian Schabel has passionately managed to convey with formidable power, intense feelings of claustrophobia which at times can become seriously uncomfortable. This is enormously effective in trying to understand the trauma Jean-Do must be feeling and really does provide an indescribable feeling of horror in an audience. The mind is constantly battling with senses of realism and surrealism and this provides something overwhelming that has never been felt before during a film, or indeed any other point in an individual's life.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is an incredibly emotional and dramatic experience. Julian Schnabel has created a unique masterpiece. He's successfully made the unimaginable become amazingly real for the audience. This film is one that should be seen by everyone. In terms of emotionally connecting with characters and artistic quality, it has never been matched, and somehow I can't see it being matched for a very long time.
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