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Le scaphandre et le papillon
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Reviews & Ratings for
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly More at IMDbPro »Le scaphandre et le papillon (original title)

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

the best of the bedridden

Author: rhinocerosfive-1 from Los Angeles
2 February 2008

*** 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.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

We are all children…The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Author: jaredmobarak from buffalo, ny, usa
27 January 2008

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 it—it's a bit down the queue, but has gone up a few spots after seeing the film—however, 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.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Must see for all.......difficult but amazing insight.

Author: ( from Canada
25 January 2008

*** 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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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

One Eye Sown

Author: tedg ( from Virginia Beach
10 January 2009

*** 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 death.

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.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Film Review - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Author: Spookwhiskey from
28 March 2008

The true-life story of a magazine editor afflicted with locked-in syndrome following a massively debilitating stroke may seem better suited to the realms of heavy drama than feel-good jubilation, and yet The Diving Bell and the Butterfly arrives as just that. Thanks to the free spirit and painterly eye of director Julian Schnabel, Jean Dominique Bauby's slender post-stroke memoir makes for a truly astonishing film, both as effortlessly uplifting and unaffectedly artful as it is dazzling and visually ingenious.

Integral to the film's success is the ingenuity and dynamism with which Schnabel and director of photography Janusz Kaminski tackle the filmic translation of Bauby's potentially dealbreaking condition, employing here the most immersive camera-work this side of Kaminski's own beach efforts on Saving Private Ryan. In an opening act which unspools entirely in first-person point-of-view, the pair succeed exquisitely in capturing the interior turmoil of Bauby's fear and frustration as the writer comes to grasp with the unspeakable weight of his circumstances, his anxiety heightened tenfold by the shifting focus of a world now tumbling from reach. A sequence in which Bauby's muscularly ineffectual right eye is stitched closed is impossibly squirm-inducing, as we - as Bauby - are forced to watch hopelessly on as each eyelid-piercing flick of a doctor's wrist gradually enshadows his outlook by half.

Of course, inventive lensing only goes so far, and it's the perfectly-judged central performance of Mathieu Amalric which balances the fertile lyricism of Schnabel's imagery with a dry and resilient resolve. Afforded only a swift handful of flashback scenes in which to establish the character of a pre-stroke Bauby, Amalric expertly conveys the readjustment of self experienced by the former Elle editor, inhabiting his immobile frame with a startling realism and forgoing cheap Oscar-bait flashiness. For a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic capable of communicating solely by blinking his left eye, Amalric invests Bauby with a wealth of spirit, the wry self-deprecation of his droll internal monologue somehow embodied by his near-motionless physical portrayal.

Though as marvellous as Amalric here is, it's no wonder The Diving Bell and the Butterfly's most affecting scenes come from the latter-half glimpses of a healthy Bauby, be he in flashback or a player in one of his own bed-ridden fantasies, as when sharing a sumptuous meal during a fancied otherworld encounter with his patient and compassionate scribe (Anne Consigny). The late sight of an able-bodied Bauby shaving his ailing father (Max von Sydow) neatly articulates their sudden reversal of roles, furthering the heartbreaking enormity of his impossible situation whilst greater highlighting his tenacity to endure. It's this refusal to concede to his condition that defines Bauby, and damn if you won't come to love him for it.

An exceptional cast of supporting players offer sensitive, well-realised performances, amplifying the scope of the across-the-board achievement encompassing Schnabel's bold adaptation. Marie-Josée Croze makes for a charming speech therapist, whilst Consigny brings a quiet grace to the loyal Claude. Her relationship with Bauby, in particular, in genuinely moving, as is her dedication to his completing his memoir. Emmanuelle Seigner exudes a time-tested devotion as the writer's ex-wife and mother to his children, and von Sydow's heartrending sorrow at his son's affliction gives way to two of the film's most devastating scenes. From Ronald Harwood's neat and nimble screenplay to the dexterous editing of Juliette Welfling, this is hands-down must-see cinema and an instant art-house classic; radiant, triumphant and profoundly universal.

A remarkable lead turn from Amalric and the impressionistic beauty of Schnabel's lush visual poetics here coalesce to incredible effect, making The Diving Bell and the Butterfly not only one of the finest releases of the past twelve months, but an accomplishment worthy of greatness.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Film-making at its very best.

Author: come2whereimfrom from United Kingdom
31 January 2008

Firstly let me say that I have not only just seen one of the films of the year and its only January but I have also seen an exceptional piece of film-making. Julian Schnabel has, after making previous films 'Basquiat' and 'Before Night Falls', launched himself headlong in to the category simply entitled 'the best directors in the world'. Wow you must be thinking this is high praise indeed, well yes it is, but it is so deserved and once you have seen this film you will know why. This true story is taken from the book of the same name by the one time editor of French 'Elle' magazine Jean-Dominique Bauby who at 42 has a stroke that leaves him completely paralysed except for his left eyelid. We start the film as he does waking from a coma and it is disorientating yet brilliant and it is a while before you realise what is going on, it's a powerful opener that puts you completely in the mindset of Bauby and it's a daunting space. As he soon realises that this is his life he has to struggle to come to terms with his predicament until he decides to write the book. Developing a technique with his speech therapist of blinking out letters and words he painstakingly begins the arduous task of writing with the saintly and patient Josephine, often working diligently for hours only to come up with a single page of text. The book could be seen as quite un-filmable and its thanks as much to Ronald Harwood screenplay as Schnabel's direction that it succeeds, in the wrong hands this could have been a mess, here it is perfect and has the right balance of humour, sentimentality, pathos and empathy for its lead. The music ranges from Classical pieces to moody Tom Waits ballads it couldn't fit better with the films imagery and with the two main metaphors from the title the paralysis being likened to being trapped in a diving bell and the butterfly being one of the only things he has left his imagination and memories which he begins to let fly, that imagery is lush and breathtaking. I know it's a cliché to say but this film did make me laugh and it did make me cry but it is handled so well that the balance seems just right all the way through. Despite doing very little Mathieu Amalric performance is superb as is the supporting cast who are at times framed at funny angles and strange close ups when you the viewer are trapped in Bauby's head. Moving and memorable I came out and instantly went to buy the book a few hours later I would have happily gone straight back into the cinema to watch it again. Sharing likenesses to 2004 Oscar winning film 'The Sea Inside' I truly hope it will also share the title of 'Oscar' winner because it has been a very long time since I've seen a film that while being experimental, different and original could move me in such a profound way. Film-making at its very best, it will be a long time before you see anything this good again, I urge everyone to go and see this remarkable film.

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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Appreciate Every Moment

Author: CuriousGrl from Jamaica Plain, MA
2 February 2008

At the age of 43, Jean-Dominique Bauby, a well-known Parisian, suffered a stroke. Which resulted in a Locked-In syndrome, a rare condition in which a patient is aware and awake, but cannot move or communicate due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body. When Jean-Dominique Bauby woke up twenty days later, upon suffering a stroke, he found he was almost entirely speechless; he could only move his mouth a little, see out of his left eye, and blink his left eyelid. The first 1/3rd of this film is seen through Jean's eye. You are just as locked in to the film as he is locked in to his condition.

Nevertheless this film is not about despair, its about the joy of living regardless of what state one really is in. In his debilitating condition he was able to appreciate life, never cease the power of imagination and memory and dictate a book through blinking his left eye as the alphabet was recited to him.

The book "Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon", on which this film is based. Le Scaphandre translates more like the Diving Suit, something in which you are immobile but can still see your reality. Le Papillon, a butterfly is free, uninhibited, boundless, and light, Claude….she is the girl taking the dictation, with so much patience, with so much love. The cinematography, the directing, acting is flawless in my humble opinion. Be prepared to cry, be prepared to laugh, and be prepared to come out of this film appreciating life more then you did before you walked in to the theater.

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8 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Overworks its mechanics

Author: D A from SoFla, UsA
15 May 2008

Another example of how tremendous critical praise drowns out a reasonable film. By no means was it terrible, it was just nowhere near the level of authentic inspiration I was led to believe. Schnabel takes this based-on-a-true-story dealing with a paralyzed man and his one eye blink of communication and milks it for everything it is worth.

There is definitely some innovative techniques being tossed around when the director is filming the early coma-scenes from the patient's perspective, though I would struggle to call these groundbreaking or truly unique.

What kills some of the momentum and genuine emotion eventually is an unfortunate repetition that appears after we witness this nurses aide reciting the alphabet in French for the hundredth time, seemingly put in yet again to reiterate the struggle which Schnabel has already helped deaden.

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16 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

my least favorite Schnabel film so far.

Author: factcheck22 from United States
15 December 2007

Not at all what I expected from Schnabel. Self-indulgent and dull. Again like many movies these months; all hype no substance. I'm getting tired of those over hyped movies in November and December, all the studios racing for the Oscars. Most of those films are no better and often worse than movies who came out earlier in the year. But i get why journalist like the film, it's about one of their compeers. So their little eyes fill with tears. "It could be me!" " It could be a film about me!" I really wanted to love this film, I loved the book, so moving and insightful but they turned it into something superficial and boring. Also they took out many things about his lover that was in the book and I think it killed the integrity of what this man spent months trying to say with one eye. Sad! I give it 3 because it's well filmed but "Munich" looked better.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

very good first 10 minutes, bad use of a powerful theme

Author: uise from Belgium
30 November 2012

It was very well done the discovery of the state of the main character. The impressions were almost physical. But after a big change, in the intrigue, nothing happens. The director fails to create a main plot, is it that the guy publishes a book ? Bauby says that he is like Mr Noitier from Conte DE Monte Cristo. If you haven't read the book, Noitier is an old man who communicates with his niece by clinging the eye, so we could say he is not in a so abnormal state, and eye clinging communication is ancient. So no gain. But we could say that Bauby is young officer who went to prison on his wedding day, who learned a lot during his imprisonment which is a cocoon, to become a mighty count – a butterfly. In this movie we see a guy who succeeds to publish a book despite his severe handicap, and one week later he dies. The plot could have been "a superficial" editor for a glossy magazine has a severe accident, and he discovers the beauty of having a family, of friends, of enjoying the rays of sun. It is missing the evolution of the main character, he is a too much loving son, a very good father before the accident, after it he remains a skirt hunter. The diving suit could have been his cocoon and to become free afterwords, a butterfly.

Besides missing the big turning point, there are unfinished stories, for example Bauby is called by his mistress in the presence of his wife, who apologize postponing her visit, and she says that she wants to see him … this is a well-built moment, but after he tells her that he misses her each day, we don't hear anything about her.

The play of actors is decent, with the exception of Max Sidow, the father who cries all the time.

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