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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This would be a little too precious if we didn't have the fact that its
a true story so far as the man, the situation, the book and the
If we didn't have the reality that he was a high powered fashion editor, surely one of the least cherished occupations on the list of essential skills to preserve when disaster arrives. If we didn't have the King Lear thoroughness of the business of the eye, first through the lenses he manipulated for profit, then that we see through as he does, and then as we see him, using his eye to communicate that which becomes the enclosing story of the film.
On watching this a second time, I became annoyed at the two parts of it that clashed. One part is what I loved: the notion of an internal camera, one that can reside in a mind separated from the world in the same way that I am as a viewer. One eye and mute. This part plays with the internal narrative visually. It is the brainchild of a serious artist and it pushes cinema in a strange new direction.
Its definitely a worthy experience on that score. In this part I'll include all the internals plus all the elements that dealt with his being. The only weak points here were two that bothered me. One is that the filmmaker inherited these diving and butterfly metaphors and felt compelled to show them. These are poorly done in my estimation. I think they could have worked if we had created three worlds, three layers, instead of the two. One of the hospital and outer world, another of the inner mind. If we had a third which would be the fictional world of that inner mind, it might have had a place. We come close in some parts, but a clear decision is apparent to keep it easy to read with the two truths.
The other bothersome shot from this good stuff was a shot of him at the beach, platform placed in the surf. Its a rather lovely shot and I understand the temptation. Its out of place, a Jordan almond in a fine omelet. Otherwise, this part of the film, the cinematic inner narrative piece, works.
Mixed in is another film, one not from the filmmaker but the writer. It deals with lives around the man. We have women, oh such lovely women who are desirable in many ways. We have stories: the 95 year old father played powerfully, the two lovers, the friend who suffered because of an offhand decision. These are written to be interesting. They clearly are there to give us some narrative meat because there is not enough confidence in us the viewer to enjoy the inner other part.
This hurts. Its an insult to a serious watcher and it dilutes the core of the film. These side stories are all observed to some extent by our captive eye. If they had appeared in the book as integrated memory they might have helped the film. If they had been treated like Ruiz treated Proust. We almost have some of this with some Victorian fantasies with his secretary. But only glancing, as it were.
I have only seen one other film by this man, the one about the graffitist. It suffers from the same narrative excess, the same cinematic brilliance, the same mistrust of the viewer's commitment.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
*** 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.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nice, very nice. An extraordinarily sensual film, peppered with
delightful performances, shot from an uncluttered script of humor and
humanity, still this must be described as a very light entertainment.
It's a feel-good movie about a guy who can't get out of his own head
without the kindness of strangers, so on some level it's a lie. But it
doesn't go far in that direction, mostly choosing to celebrate that
indomitable spirit of charity rather than lamenting its necessity; so I
guess it's mostly honest in what it chooses to display.
In an heroic effort to portray the struggle, rather than the tragedy, the film casts its subject in jelly-bean colors. Apparently Jean-Do Bauby was the luckiest paralytic in France. I can barely imagine his life as editor of Elle, but after the stroke he lives by the sea, surrounded by beauties who exist only to help him. He fantasizes about taking them to dinner, and making love to them and to the Empress Eugenie. Unlike so many guy-stuck-in-bed movies (SEA INSIDE, WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY, BONE COLLECTOR), this one never gets maudlin. It celebrates life instead of demanding its end. I have nothing against suicide - if you're unhappy, get lost - but I don't want to watch another movie about somebody who just wants to die. This movie makes SEA INSIDE look like a self-pitying bitchfest. No, actually, SEA INSIDE did that to itself. But by comparison, this one has its protagonist pirouetting and leaping for joy.
Let me say unequivocally that in my experience despair may be irrevocable, and that in real life, total paralysis might just warrant a death wish. But again, I don't want to watch a movie about that. What possible valid theme may be pulled from a story about life not being worth living? I don't even want to know.
Did I mention the fantastic performers? Aside from a very toothsome collection of Frenchwomen - Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, Anne Consigny, Marina Hands, Emma de Caunes - there's the always dependable Mathieu Amalric, the actor who looks more like a young Polanski than even a young Polanski did. Funnily enough, Emmanuelle Seigner plays his wife. More felicity from a remarkably frivolous confection.
The tale of Jean-Dominique Bauby and his harrowing ordeal of being
locked-in his own body after a debilitating stroke is devastating. I
can't wait to finally start reading itit's a bit down the queue, but
has gone up a few spots after seeing the filmhowever, after watching
the film version, I can't help but commend director Julian Schnabel.
The man is the go to guy when it comes to artistic biopics. From the
magnificent portrayal of Jean-Michel Basquiat in his first foray with
the media (much help from the brilliant Jeffery Wright) and the
follow-up with Javier Bardem's Oscar-nominated performance in Before
Night Falls (almost unheard of for a foreign film), the true star with
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is not necessarily lead actor Mathieu
Amalric, (who is fantastic), but instead the camera itself. About
three-quarters of this film is told from the vantage point of Bauby's
one working eyeball, and it is a glorious view using gorgeously
abstract framing to help tell the story that went on inside his working
mind, almost hidden forever behind his limp, immovable body.
From the first moments of the movie, we are placed inside Bauby's head as he awakens from a three-week coma. All the blurs from inactivity, strong light, and moist tears prohibit our own clear view of the proceedings. What he sees is what we see. Although one could call it a gimmick, it is the only way this story could have been told. His memoirs are about his imagination, his memories, and his thoughts while trapped in his own mind, it is not about the people around him, watching this broken man with pity and sadness. Instead of a eulogy full of sorrow, Schnabel gives us a celebration of a life; a man who realized all the mistakes he had made and would never be able to reconcile, trying to use words to say he was sorry and that he loved everyone close to him, no matter what horrible things he did otherwise. We don't need to see his still, distorted face because we as an audience are not supposed to feel bad for him either. We have to hear his snide remarks to himself and bitterness at the start in order to really understand his mindframe and evolution into the man that finally decided to do something other than wish for the end. That was a welcome surprise here, the subtle humor brought some good laughs to help break up the solemn tone and subject matter.
Stylistically speaking, the film is profound. It is a completely visual experience, (and don't be worried that reading subtitles will detract from looking at the scenery, it is all up there to be seen as one), with many instances that stick with you afterwards. The final sequence is probably my favorite as the faces of all his friends that came to visit and/or helped him with his recovery fade in and out, melting into each other as well as the stark whiteout caused by the bright light coming in behind them. Schnabel also does the right thing when it comes to showing the process that went into allowing this man to speak with his eye. At first we must go letter by letter with the characters learning the process and honing it to perfection, but as the film goes on, we are only told the first letter while a montage continues for the rest as the complete sentences are read back to us. It resembles a time-lapse moment with faint cuts and disjointed speech in the background and works flawlessly to help alleviate any boredom that might set in having to see the process over and over again. With that said, though, the film's main flaw still ends up being its length. The movie feels a lot longer than it is, appearing to have multiple concluding moments only to cut back to a new sequence. While I can think of nothing that would have been OK to excise from the rest, I did feel a tad overwhelmed at times as the story kept on going.
Those lulls have everything to do with the problematic biopic necessity of showing too much to try and encapsulate a life in two hours and nothing to do with the acting whatsoever. Every performance is quite stunning. Amalric is great, although not necessarily seen on screen very often as we mostly just get to hear his voice reacting to what we are seeing. However, the moments when we see his face, in paralysis, fighting back tears, you can't deny the performance's success. Both women involved really shine also, full of emotion and compassion for this man that may or may not give it back. His speech therapist Henriette is superbly played by Marie-Josée Croze and the mother of his children Céline by Emmanuelle Seigner. It is through their actions and reactions that we are shown the true weight of the situation with Bauby. When Seigner has to be in the room with her love's mistress on the phone, you can't help but feel the pain the words spoken inflict on her. The real surprise, though, is the powerful small role of Bauby's father played by Max von Sydow. Pushing 80 years old, Sydow shows he still has the goods to carry a scene.
While not necessarily the masterpiece I had anticipated it to be, there are few complaints to be had with this biography of a giant of a man reduced to the memories still intact in his mind. You could take any single frame from the film and create a piece of art with it, it is that beautiful to behold. Schnabel has definitely done something unique with this adaptation and it deserves all the accolades it receives. It's just too bad that it missed out on getting a Foreign-Language film Oscar; they need to change that rule and not allow just one film per country to be entered in the race.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffers a
stroke and has to live with an almost totally paralyzed body; only his
left eye isn't paralyzed." This is an amazing piece of cinematic art &
direction conveying the almost impossible -- what a patient experiences
in "locked-in-syndrome". This is not an ordinary stroke as we learn in
the movie. The viewer is taken on a visual/visceral experience of this
phenomenon in such an insightful manner that some may find the journey
overwhelming. We have the author, Bauby, himself, to thank for his
inspiration to "tell" his story against impossible odds, and the
director who was able to get inside the story and make it manifest on
the screen in a truly remarkable way. It should become requisite
viewing for all medical and paramedical professionals.
I highly recommend this film........
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