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How much do we really communicate? Can you tell me what you're
thinking? What you're feeling? Not an approximation, but exactly? To
find a common language, a window of trust, and to communicate
experience! To see inside the mind of an artist. Or for the artist,
ours. If we find that common wavelength, can we dive in? Let the
'butterfly' take flight from its dark chrysalis? The interior world of
another. The inscrutable depth of another person's individuality.
The first movie I saw by neo-expressionist painter Julian Schnabel was Before Night Falls. In that film, the artist was trapped in prison, quite literally. Which presented great communication difficulties for him (in giving life to his novel in the world). In this film, we have examples of people trapped or imprisoned in different ways. A man who had been taken hostage in Beirut. An ailing father who has difficulty climbing stairs to and from his apartment. Both are trying to reach out to the main protagonist. Bauby. An amazing and successful socialite who's in his very own 'prison.' Bauby has secured a publishing contract when tragedy hits. A stroke causes 'locked in' syndrome and he reviews his options as an author. The book he writes, and on which this film is based, is the one he is remembered for. I haven't read it. But his powers of expression, glimpsed in the film, make me want to buy it. The book he nearly wrote - a re-write of the Count of Monte Cristo - would probably be pulped. (But I wonder if that was poetic embellishment - Dumas was the first person to describe locked in syndrome in the person of Monsieur Noirtier de Villeforte, a Cristo character).
How many people know of Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor of Elle fashion magazine? It doesn't matter. But what does matter is experiencing his ability to discern, his articulate vision of beauty. Not as science, but as an education of the senses (and this is a sensuous and evocative film).
Why is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly so successful? A French language film picking up four Oscar nominations is remarkable. (The American director insisted on authenticity and made it in France and in French.) I suspect the consummate vocabulary of metaphor it uses is partly responsible. It makes the challenge facing Bauby a global one and relevant to everyone's life. None of us communicates perfectly, after all. Words left unsaid, to friends, to lovers, because we didn't find the 'right' words.
The speech therapist who breaks through Bauby's barrier is excellent. Her motivation is, here is a man she respects and admires. It is also the biggest challenge of her career. Bauby's sense of humour, voiced as interior dialogue, is scathing. His lecherous thoughts about the therapist are tempered with good taste and his incorrect jokes about his own condition.
Bauby starts to write his novel and his sense of poetry bursts through. We feel a glimmer of a mental rush associated with artists, explorers and adventurers. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the adventure of life and death. Not in Hollywood terms with big explosions. But with sensitivities, with meanings. It has a 'reach out and touch' quality. A Laughing Buddha whose joke we've missed (but might catch on another occasion). It is the most awesomely beautiful film I have seen for a long while.
Schnabel's thing might be helping us taste something we might otherwise let go unnoticed. In Basquiat, he introduced many people to the artist Basquiat, but also to the revered and misunderstood Warhol. (And if you want to understand someone as weird as Warhol, understanding the contemporaneous and only slightly weird - Basquiat is maybe a good place to start.) Here, his insight is transcendent. The film is a work of art. About a work of art. The use of visual metaphor and an excellent script lets us use Bauby's condition symbolically. Ingenious editing keeps us on the edge of our seat, especially towards the resolution, as we race to work out how a drive in the countryside will end.
The only scene I could find a flaw in was where he shaves his father. The sound of the rasping blade as he shaved his dad troubled me if it was added afterwards I think it was overdone and distracting. But the scene was an emotional building block. And much of our story is told like this, through flashbacks. With his beautiful ex-wife. With his children. With his lover. And with his father. People with whom, like most of us, he still has one or two little unresolved issues. They made me wonder if we make too little effort to communicate when it seems easy to do so.
The film successfully mixes a down-to-earth style, great special effects to see through Bauby's one remaining eye, and jaw-dropping montage. As we observe mundane details of our hero's life falling apart or reaching fulfilment, the camera cuts to ice fields collapsing into the sea or winding back in reverse motion. Or there will be a sudden switch to sensuality as he guzzles wine and oysters in a swank restaurant, feeding and being fed by his lover. Janusz Kaminski, the cinematographer for countless Steven Spielberg's, excels, as does Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood.
It should perhaps be noted that the film has not been immune to attempted high-jacks by groups with their own agendas. The Catholic News Service hailed its 'life-affirming qualities' compared to another great film it denigrates, The Sea Inside. Although locked-in state is a rare condition, few individuals experiencing it are likely to have the wealth and resources, public acclaim and reason to live that Bauby had. The situation of Ramon Sanpedro (The Sea Inside) might be a more common one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A film professing to be based upon a true story should stay true to the
story. This one does not. I was so moved by the film after watching it
last night, I decided to do some research on Jean-Dominique Bauby. And
what did I discover? The truth is, the filmmakers took some serious
liberties with the truth, portraying Mr. Bauby's girlfriend as a
narcissistic flake who couldn't bring herself to visit her paralyzed
lover, while at the same time glorifying the mother of his children as
the steadfast, dutiful companion who remained loyal despite Bauby's
love for another woman. In fact, the opposite is true. Bauby's
girlfriend was constantly by his side, while the mother of his children
visited him perhaps three or four times in total. She was traveling
with her boyfriend in America when Bauby died in his girlfriend's arms.
The real story, as represented in the book and by Bauby's friends, was needlessly altered by the filmmakers. One can only imagine the very real pain and harm the filmmakers have caused to the people who were there for Bauby during his final years. The liberties taken are libel, no doubt about it, and it is a testament to the integrity of the real heroine, Florence, that she has not sued over the abhorrent way in which she is portrayed by this piece of pointlessly subversive garbage.
Furthermore, Bauby never asked to die--not once. His speech therapist apparently refused to see the film after reading the lies in the script. The filmmakers apparently have respect neither for the living, nor the dead.
I feel cheated by this film. In fact, I feel sick to my stomach. The real story is just as interesting, and equally inspiring--if not more so. Knowing the truth about this film gives one a sense for why collective society is mistaken about so many things. We can thank the arrogance of the entertainment industry--which now includes the news networks--for our ignorance. We must be diligent in our skepticism, and tenacious in our pursuit of the truth. Reality is the only source of true wisdom and understanding.
I wish others felt as offended by this film as I do. Disgusting and beneath contempt.
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is a jewel of a French film with a story that impacts an audience with an appreciation for life (the butterfly) and for the despair of what may happen if a tragedy might befall you (the diving bell)with the beautiful landscapes of France as a backdrop. The lighting and photography enhance the film, and the faces of the French women are wondrous to behold as the story unfolds on the screen. This film deserves all the accolades that it has received in a story which is spellbinding and emotional. The cast is superb, the scenes that depict the father and son are very real and show the importance of acceptance of father for son, which is carried down to his own children, and the final scenes leave you with a great respect for the writer and his story. Merci beau coup, Ronald Harwood, for delivering this story to the screen.
The immersion into the life of a man that is a part of a horrific
event, where just about all seems lost and where he becomes literally
trapped with in his own body can be heart-achingly depressing, however,
it was actually, due to poetic direction, a mesmerizing, stylistic and
somewhat uplifting story. The air was a little sweeter, after the
viewing since life becomes more appreciated. This movie helps you
appreciate the finer things in life and realize all that we take for
Giving the film a surreal feel as though in a dream we witness a collage of memories, imaginations and actual dreams. From this, along with actual visits from loved ones we get an understanding of the man's life before the accident. It is filmed from the stroke victim's point of view. You see exactly what he sees, such as when his eye gets weak and things get blurry. We are also exposed to the man's thoughts as we hear him talking to the people about his feelings and what he wants to say despite being mute, and not being heard by the people. His thoughts give realness to the character and show us that he is still human. He even finds humor in his situation and says, to the nurse that doesn't hear him, "you need to get a sense of humor".
Overall a message about life. At the peak of this mans life an extremely severe paralysis befalls him. At first understandably pitying himself he is able to find some humor in his situation, (and parts of the movie actually make you laugh) and then inspiration. Inspiration stemming from realization that his imagination and memory are in tact. He can feel good using his mind and can even be creative and productive.
American painter turned director Julian Schnabel loves biopics of
extraordinary artists. His feature debut, "Basquiat" (1996), was an
interesting portrait of the troubled painter (played by Jeffrey
Wright). His second film, "Before Night Falls" (2000), was even better,
and told the story of Cuban poet/novelist Reinaldo Arenas (the
magnificent Javier Bardem). His new film, "The Diving Bell and the
Butterfly", surpasses his previous efforts and is nothing short of a
masterpiece, for lack of a better word. This time, though, his "artist"
is a successful 43 year-old man, Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique
Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), a bon-vivant who becomes a victim of the
so-called "locked-in syndrome" after a sudden stroke. His mental
faculties are intact, but he can't move anything but his left eyelid.
With the help of a speech therapist, he struggles to write his memoirs,
by blinking letter by letter and letting her write what he wants to
Saying more about the plot would spoil the wonderful experience of watching "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". The camera angles/visuals are breathtaking (courtesy of two-time Oscar winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski), and in some moments he makes us see everything from Bauby's point of view. In spite of Bauby's disability, the film is never overly melodramatic, being similar to (but even better than) "The Sea Inside" and "My Left Foot". The cast is fantastic, from Amalric to screen legend Max von Sydow, and the beautiful women in Jean-Do's life (Marie-Josée Croze, Anne Consigny and Emmanuelle Seigner, among others). The soundtrack is also memorable, including Charles Trenet's wondrous "La Mer" (which was recorded by Bobby Darin in English as "Beyond the Sea"). "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" won the Golden Globes for best director and foreign film, and got four Oscar nominations (director, adapted screenplay, editing and cinematography - but NOT Best Foreign Film). France made the mistake of submitting the (fantastic) animation "Persepolis" instead of "Diving Bell", but they should know the Academy would never give Best Foreign Film for an animated movie, as good as it might be, and therefore neither of them got the nomination. But that's actually the Academy's fault for their stupid rules, since France should've been allowed to submit both movies. What if two of the best foreign movies of the year were from the same country? In a perfect world, there would be only a Best Picture category and films from any country and any language would be nominated, but since most people still ignore subtitles, this 'segregation' has to exist. Oh well. Oscar blunders apart, this is a film that will make you see and value the beauty of life. Bravo, Mr. Schnabel! Bravo, Monsieur Bauby! 10/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Waking up from a stroke is terrible, but waking up as someone else is
even more shocking.
Jean-Dominique knew himself but didn't recognize the person he became after his stroke, which had left him with locked-in syndrome. He wanted to piece together what had happened to him and what he was left with, which allowed him to appreciate the fact that he was indeed still alive and surrounded by people who genuinely loved him. Locked-in syndrome might seem like the end all be all but Jean-Dominique had such a humbling and good sense of humor about it.
We become Jean-Dominique from the beginning, played wonderfully by Mathieu Amalric, in this point-of-view subtitled masterpiece, living our last days in a French hospital with only gorgeous rolling hillsides, countryside, beaches, and glaciers to look at. As the editor of Elle we can only expect a lifestyle of luxury and also not be surprised by the amorous affairs of such a charismatic figure.
He eventually started working on a book with one of his caretakers, Claude- by which the method of writing was that he dictated sentences with his one remaining eye to her. I believe that she grew to love him, and he may have perhaps loved her in a way as well (as we can see by some of what he dictates to her and the point-of-view shots of him frequently checking her out). The relationships that he formed with his caretakers as well as with the mother of his children, Celine, who still loved him despite what they had been through, were beautiful yet agonizing to watch.
Every time an airy tune started to play, we were whisked off into a sort of Jean-Do oyster-eating sexual fantasy or uplifting flash back, but then the music was abruptly cut off and we went back to being trapped again. (By last time this happened I was starting to anticipate it.)
I am impressed by Julian Schnabel's ability to allow us to become fully absorbed in Jean Dominique's life and not holding anything back, no matter how hard it may have been to watch. He did justice to Basquiat as well. I honestly don't think most Americans can appreciate this honest sort of cinema, but I hope that this will gain a wide release, or be distributed however Julian Schnabel would like it to.
I plan on reading Jean-Dominique's book now, as it seems to be a beautiful manuscript.
The former France ELLE editor Jean-Dominique Bauby quoted his life as
being trapped in a diving bell and free like a butterfly, and that was
how he describes his life after a stroke left him only able to blink
his left eye. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly has become the title of
his memoirs, which has become a best seller which Bauby will never get
American born director Julian Schnabel picked up the memoir and made it into a movie that will re-examine the way a person will view his life. From the way the movie was presented to the audience, it might seems to be difficult to digest, but if you watch them once again, you will find that the flow of the movie follows closely to what is written on the book.
The story begins with Jean Dominique (Mathieu Amalric) finding himself woke up in a hospital,unable to move his body. Upon hearing from the doctor that a stroke left him unable to move, except his left eye, he found himself trapped in a prison: his body. He describes his body as a diving bell, where death sentence prisoner would wore the diving bell and drowned in the sea. With doctors and therapists taking care of him, he found himself living without dignity.
With the help of Henriteet (Marie Jozee Croze), a speech therapist, she uses a unique method of communicating with Jean thru pronouncing the alphabets and Jean would form a word or sentence by blinking the eye. After getting to know her much more better, Jean found his way to survive thru the disabilities: imagination and beautiful memories. Both set his spirit free, and he feels like he is flying like a butterfly. And thus he began writing his memoirs of his life.
The story is told through the view from Jean's left eye and reaction in his mind after the stroke. This pulls the audience and the inner world of Jean closer, and audience could have a feel of putting themselves into Jean's shoes. From the effort the cast and crew puts in the movie, we can tell that the movie is follow everything accordingly to the book, without any adjustments.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the movie that you need if you want to take a break from normal popcorn flicks, or a movie that makes you think through about yourself, and how you live life to the fullest.
Its incredible how persistent the French film industry is. Year after
year, day after day, they never give up and unleash to the world their
new crop of mediocre dramas that impress the pseudo intellectuals.
Here we have a typical melodrama that follows all the typical patterns of melodrama films. That's it. Period.
I have seem people say that this film is one of the best ever made. Please, try watching some serious stuff, like Apocalipse Now, 8 1/2, Spirited Away and 2001 (to restrict myself to obvious masterpieces) before making such ludicrous claims. If one does say that these films are boring or don't make sense, that's only because one failed to understand them. Period.
After checking out the excellent reviews here, this movie sounded too
good to pass up, so I rented it. After an uncomfortable first 10-15
minutes, I wondered if I been hoodwinked.....but no, I hadn't. The film
got better and better and when it over, I felt I had watched something
This is simply great film-making, and I can see why it was an award-winner in multiple categories. You can start with the photography, which is fantastic. The direction is innovative, which ads to the cinematography and the story, once you're hooked in, will not let you go, so big-time props for the writers, too. Even if the subject matter (paralysis) is difficult you want to keep watching to find out how much progress "Jean-Dominique Bauby" (Mathieu Amalric) will make.
In addition to wonderful direction and visuals, what I'll always take from this film is (1) the incredible patience of the speech therapists (which includes Celine, his wife) and (2) continually wondering how frustrated Jean-Do must have felt in his horrible physical condition.
All the actors were very good in this film. Amalric was so realistic I could have taken him for the real-life person. My personal favorite was speech therapist "Henriette Roi," played by Marie-Josee Croze. More important than her beauty, the concern and the kindness on her face day after day was inspiring. Meanwhile, veteran acor Max von Sydow was mesmerizing as Jean-Do's father.
One of the scary "sermons" of this based-on-a-true-life story is that most of us take life and all the little things in it, for granted each day.
Overall, a very memorable movie and one which lived up to the hype.
Because film is a largely realistic medium, "impressionism" is a style
rarely attempted by even the most adventurous of movie makers. Indeed,
Terrance Malick is one of the few directors working today who has found
consistent success (artistic if not commercial) in that genre. Now we
can add French filmmaker Julian Schnabel to the list for his truly
remarkable work in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," a movie that
defies easy categorization and is quite unlike anything we've
The story definitely falls into the "truth is stranger than fiction" category. Jean-Dominique Bauby was a 43-year-old writer and editor-in-chief of Elle Magazine when, in 1995, he suffered a massive stroke that left him completely paralyzed in all but his left eye. Confined to a bed and a wheelchair and unable to speak or move, all Bauby could do was look out on the world around him without any real hope of ever being able to communicate beyond a simple batting of the eyelid in response to a string of "yes or no" questions. However, thanks to the ingenuity of one of his therapists, Bauby eventually found a way - by painstakingly spelling out each word one letter at a time - to not only communicate fully with those around him but to actually dictate an entire best-selling book with the use of his one eye.
For the first twenty minutes or so, we see the world only as Bauby does, from the severely limited viewpoint of his one good eye, as he wakes up from his coma and begins to slowly realize what has happened to him. As the story progresses, Schnabel gradually allows us to escape Bauby's bodily prison and to see the events from a more objective angle. From that point on, we split our time fairly evenly between these two perspectives.
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" could have been a mere "gimmick film" were it not for the tremendously revelatory nature of Bauby's tale. Through voice-over narration, we are able to enter into Bauby's mind to explore the many thoughts and moods that enlighten or plague him. At first, of course, Bauby is filled with a sense of hopelessness and despair, telling his therapist early on that the one thing he wishes for above all else is death However, as time goes on, Bauby begins to realize that, while his body may be trapped in a physical prison (a diving bell), his mind is now free to soar as never before into the realm of fantasy, imagination and memory (the butterfly). Forced to remove himself from the petty concerns that so often overtake us in our daily lives, Bauby is now able to contemplate the things that REALLY matter in life: his love for his girlfriend and children; what it means to be a lover, a father to his children, a son to his aging father, etc. As such, the movie becomes a celebration of the ability of the human spirit to endure and flourish under even the most trying of circumstances. The impressionism comes as Schnabel follows the course of Bauby's dreams, visions, memories and imaginings as they come pouring out in virtual stream-of-consciousness fashion, always backed up by Bauby's lyrical contemplation on what they mean to him both as an individual and as a part of the collective human race.
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a movie overflowing with imagination and surprise, as when, out of nowhere, Schnabel and screenwriter Ronald Harwood insert a lovely little homage to the opening scene in "The 400 Blows." Conversely, the scene in which Bauby has his right eye sewn shut against his unheeded wishes is quite literally harrowing. Indeed, the movie is often at its most poignant in scenes where Bauby is completely at the mercy of what other people think is best for him, as when an unthinking orderly turns off a soccer match just as Bauby is really getting into it or a well-meaning therapist takes Bauby, an avowed atheist, to visit a Catholic priest. It is at times like these that he is closest to having his identity as an individual subsumed by his illness and the people around him.
Beyond the brilliant performances by Mathieu Amallic as Bauby, Max von Sydow as his 92-year-old father, and Emmanuelle Seigner as his longtime girlfriend, among others, special recognition must surely go to editor Juliette Welfling and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Spielberg's preferred cameraman) for the various miracles they have wrought in bringing this tightrope-walking tour-de-force to the screen.
Heartbreaking but never sentimental, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is that rare film that will haunt you for a long time after it's over and will make you look at life in a whole new way.
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