The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) Poster

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The films places you inside the author's head and keeps you there.
forindcine15 December 2007
Earlier this year, a good friend, avid reader and film buff informed me that one of her favorite books was the basis for a film which recently won awards at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. I knew nothing of the novel or the film so she offered me the book to read. I enjoyed the story but didn't completely appreciate its depth until I recently got a sneak peek at the film.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is about Jean-Dominique Bauby, (Mathieu Amalric) a popular editor of the French fashion magazine 'Elle.' At age 43 he is stricken with a stroke leaving him with lock-in syndrome, a medical condition that, except for his left eye, rendered him completely immobile. In fear of his right eye becoming "septic" doctors quickly stitched the eye shut.

This sealing of that eye is an early scene, which is so perfectly shot that it places you inside Bauby's head and body, and keeps you there for the entire film. You see the world as he views it while desiring to be free of the paralyzing feeling of a sinking diving bell. At other times, with his imagination, you find yourself fluttering as free as a butterfly.

Bauby wrote his story with the use of a unique sequence of letters specifically designed so he could blink his eye to communicate as he created every single word of his story.

This film is in no way depressing. The cinematography is brilliantly captured. Everyone was completely captivated by the screenplay as we experienced life deep inside Bauby's body, mind and soul. For the entire 2+ hours, you won't want to be anyplace else.
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Cinematic Art achieved
23pictures9 November 2007
One of the best films in years, and in artistic cinematic terms, one of the best films I've ever seen. That's a heavy statement to make, but off the top of my head, I cannot think of another film that explores the inner workings of a character so intimately and believably, while blending cinematography, sound effects, and musical score in such harmony -- but in a fashion we (as American's at least) are not trained to enjoy. I felt the French influence strongly cinematically and, of course in the dialogue, but the writing and acting was so fluid it felt like the subtitles weren't even there.

The film deals with a rare physical condition, and I was physically there with the character from start to finish. I felt each moment as if it were my own. That is a rare accomplishment in cinema. Julian Schnabel directed a stellar cast. Mathieu Amalric was unusually charming as Jean-Dominique Bauby, and Max Von Sydow was heartbreaking as his lonely widower father. The female leads were all equally impressive as they were beautiful. I don not mean to generalize them, but they were all so excellent that they blend seamlessly in my mind, in terms of performance.

Overall, this film was as pure a cinematic experience as I've witnessed in a long time. A true artist turns out a film that is truly a piece of art. Julian Schnabel takes his time in between films, but with work like this, there's no need to rush. Like a good painting, one can enjoy it for a lifetime.
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A film of enormous power
Howard Schumann12 January 2008
Though not paralyzed from head to toe like French fashion magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, many of us are in the "locked-in" syndrome – locked into our resentments and our fears, a rigidity that sours us on life and keep us estranged from family and friends. Julian Schnabel's masterful The Diving Bell and the Butterfly allows us to better appreciate the simple pleasures in life by dramatizing the debilitating trauma faced by the 43-year old editor who suffered a massive stroke that left him unable to speak or to move his head and whose only means of communication was to blink one eye – one blink for yes, two blinks for no.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski with a screenplay by Ronald Harwood, the film begins with Bauby's confused awakening in the hospital after twenty days in a coma. We see only a blur of images and claustrophobic close-ups that mirror the patient's mental state. We can make out a hospital room and doctors and nurses offering reassuring thoughts. We hear Bauby's words but the doctors do not and we know that while his body isn't functioning, his mind is as sharp as ever. With the help of a speech therapist (Marie-Josée Croze), and a very patient transcriber, a code is developed that allows Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), called Jean-Do by his friends and family, to compose a book based on his experience.

When the therapist recites the most-frequently used letters in the French alphabet, Bauby blinks when he wants to choose a letter. The book, on which the film is based, was published in 1997, shortly after Bauby's death. One of the most dramatic moments in the film occurs near the beginning when the first thought Jean-Do communicates is that he wants to die. Feeling rejected and angry, the therapist stomps out of the room but apologizes and comes back shortly to resume the treatment. We do not actually see Jean-Do until about a third of the way through the film but we can hear his thoughts which are in turn angry, funny, and bitterly ironic. Bauby compares his body to a deep-sea diver being suffocated in a diving suit and his poetic imagination to a butterfly.

It is Jean-Do's sense of humor that keeps the film as light as it can be under the circumstances and his eloquence that keeps us riveted. When we finally do see him with his immobile body and his drooping lower lip, it is still a shock but we smile when he says that "I look like I came out of a vat of formaldehyde." Much of the film vividly explores the editor's imagination and the camera takes us on some wild rides that include images of Nijinsky, Empress Eugénie, Marlon Brando, and Jean-Do in his imagination skiing and surfing. Some of the most emotional moments occur when he greets his young children at the beach for the first time after his stroke, a telephone "conversation" with his 92-year old father (Max Von Sydow), and flashbacks to his youth - driving with his girlfriend, shaving his father, supervising a fashion shoot, and taking his son on a trip in a new sports car. Bauby's wife Céline (Emmanuelle Seigner), whom he left for exotic girlfriend Ines (Agathe de La Fontaine), visits him in the hospital and comforts him while Ines cannot bring herself to see him, saying that she wants to remember him the way he was.

Realizing how his life had been less than exemplary, his stroke becomes an opportunity for redemption and allows him, if not to cleanse his soul, to discover that humanity lies in his consciousness not in material things or sexuality. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a film of enormous power that shakes us and enables us to get in touch with the miracle of each moment. Schnabel says that his purpose in making the film was to tell "the story of all of us, who surely do face death and sickness. But if we look", he says, "we can find meaning and beauty here." There is enough of both meaning and beauty to make The Diving Bell and the Butterfly one of the best films of the year.
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What movies should be
The best film so far - that I've seen - in 2008. A totally artistic endeavour that succeeds on every level. Expecting a somewhat depressing movie, I found it to be the exact opposite. Uplifting, joyful, and inspirational while showing a man (played by Mathieu Amalric) completely paralyzed, apart from the ability to blink his left eye.

There is a seamless blend of cinematography with the music to enhance the inner life of the main character, the viewer is at one with his inner frustration, his soaring imagination, his follies, faults and lusts. At times it is humorous, at others there are indelible vignettes - one of the long term partner (beautfully played by EmmanuelleSeigner) assisting his lover to communicate with him by telephone. Another is the incredible Max Von Sydow in a riveting performance as the elderly heart-broken father.

The film is based on a true story and it must have been an enormous challenge to bring this story to the screen. Julian Schnabel directed the amazing cast and brought an artistry to the project that is extremely rare in film making. To capture the world as seen through the eye of a paralyzed man and make it so fascinating took enormous skill.

I was captivated and enchanted and would definitely see it again. 9 out of 10. Not to be missed.
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One of the best films I've seen for a while
Chris_Docker9 February 2008
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.
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Do yourself a favor
D. Bruce Brown2 January 2008
The inadequacies of the descriptions of this movie emphasize the gulf between the written (or spoken) word and the work of art itself. I could write all the spoilers and it wouldn't make a difference, because the riveting quality here doesn't depend on plot surprises. It is the improbable story, a story that will touch you and then executed by actors who seem like their lives depend on being true to the story.

This is an anti-Hollywood, anti-formula movie. Those have their place, but this is a great antidote to the silly decisions made by inappropriately powerful studio execs.

See it. You'll be thankful you did.
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Beautifully Directed Lies - This Film is Pure Libel
edog1017 August 2009
Warning: 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.
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Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Raj Doctor18 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
When I saw the trailer of this French movie for the first time, nothing appealed to me. Second time, I thought the director had used very good and innovative camera angles. Later I read about the story and I got hooked to see this movie. I do not understand French or the Dutch sub-titles. My friends are amazed at my zeal to still go and see a movie with no language orientation.

This is a true biographical sketch of a French Journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) who was also the editor of magazine ELLE. In 1995, he had a heart stroke and that left him fully paralyzed with a rare condition – lock-in syndrome. This is his story from his eye view. Despite his condition, he authored a book by blinking his left eye-lid when a correct alphabet was uttered by a person. It is a painful process to write a book with such a pace. Not only for Jean but it requires enormous patience from the side of the one scripting the alphabet to form words and sentences. Jean died 3 days after the book was published.

Who else could have made the movie but a very sensitive and artistic person – it is an American artist / painter and now Director Julian Schnabel. This is his third movie and he has hit the right chords to draw the vast canvas. In the first couple of minutes we are all set for what is to follow. The fantastic capture of real eye angle camera movements from the vision of Jean is incredibly real. For first 20 minutes the audience only sees what Jean sees, but when the camera slowly comes out of Jean's eyes and sees Jean objectively – every time I felt like going back to the heart and soul of Jean's eye vision. It is so wonderful and sensitive.

Mathieu Amalric has played the character of Jean with so authentication that it is hard to believe and separate his self from the real character.

The most wonderful part that remains with you after the movie is the sense of humor with which Jean sees this world. He remains light hearted at times and thinks hilarious comments even in the most painful state of his being.

I would also like to mention the two supporting characters who render Jean's words on paper. It is the patience and sensitivity of characters that is touching and those roles are beautifully portrayed by two well known Canadian and French actresses – Marie Josee Croze (former writer) and Anne Consigny (latter writer) respectively.

The photography is superb. The camera angles as I mentioned are innovative and treat to watch. Hats off to Julian Schnabel in gifting the world of cinema a rare gem! When good cinema touches your soul – language disappears! (Stars 7.5 out of 10)
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mistarkus28 December 2007
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 granted.

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.
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A moving story told in an intriguing fashion
simonlitton23 August 2007
Saw this last night in Brussels (it's been on release for a while now). I was worried that it would be arty and depressing, but I was pleasantly surprised by how absorbing and moving it was. The opening scenes are striking, and communicate well the main character's feelings of claustrophobia and helplessness in the immediate aftermath of his accident, but as he attempts to rebuild his life and learn how to communicate, the film (and the visual style) opens up, even making room for some welcome flashes of humour. Performances are excellent, but the real stars here are the writer(s) and director, for taking us so convincingly into the character's world.
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A powerful and emotional journey
screenwriter-1422 December 2007
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.
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Release Yourself From the Diving Bell and Free Like a Butterfly
samuelding853 February 2008
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 to see.

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.
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Somewhere beyond the sea, somewhere waiting for me...
Benedict_Cumberbatch29 February 2008
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 say.

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.
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blink once for yes
Rabieshot12 October 2007
Warning: 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.
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Another french melodrama
Jose Cruz5 November 2012
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.
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the art of pure film-making
Roland E. Zwick1 June 2008
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 encountered before.

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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Finding Eloquence Against Foreboding Odds in a Mesmerizing, Resonant Film
Ed Uyeshima28 May 2008
Imagine being left immobilized after a massive stroke, and having the ability to move only your left eye. Such was the case of 43-year-old French Elle magazine editor-in-chief Jean-Dominique Bauby in December 1995 when he awakened from a twenty-day coma to find himself mentally active but physically paralyzed. To think he would have the wherewithal to write a poignant and elegant memoir through the blink of his eye is astounding, but he did it and the publication date of his book was a mere two days before his death in 1997. It takes someone with painter/filmmaker Julian Schnabel's ("Before Night Falls") visual flair to bring such a fragile but empowering story to cinematic life, and screenwriter Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist") has done a compelling job translating Bauby's book into a highly charged story that complements Schnabel's bold film-making choices.

The 2007 film begins with Bauby, known as Jean-Do to his friends, slipping in and out of consciousness, slowly realizing he has his faculties but cannot communicate with is doctors. The first half-hour shows only Bauby's viewpoint with his thoughts articulated through an interior monologue shared with the viewer. It's an intentionally constricted technique that Schnabel uses effectively to convey Bauby's helpless state. Four women play pivotal roles in his road toward at least partial recovery - speech therapist Henriette, who teaches him the blinking technique that enables him to communicate; physiotherapist Marie who demonstrates a series of tongue exercises that sets Bauby off on some hilariously profane thoughts; his estranged partner Céline who bore and raised his three children and is now willing to take on the role of caretaker; and finally Claude, the editor who has come to take dictation for the book Bauby promised to his publisher before his stroke. These encounters are intertwined with fantasy sequences and flashbacks where we see the fully functional Bauby. There are an excellent couple of scenes between Bauby and his curmudgeonly father that shows just how much son takes after father and how vibrant and flawed Bauby was before his paralysis.

The acting is outstanding beginning with Mathieu Amalric (the informant Louis in Steven Spielberg's "Munich") as Bauby. In a powerful, unsentimental performance that recalls the exalted levels achieved by Daniel Day-Lewis in "My Left Foot" and Javier Bardem in "The Sea Inside", the French actor conveys the fertile brain at work and the vibrant man that has been forcibly left behind. Amalric also shows how human-sized his character is, a philanderer who still manages to engender the devotion of those closest to him. The actresses playing the women - Marie-Josée Croze, Olatz Lopez Garmendia (Schnabel's real-life wife), Emmanuelle Seigner, and Anne Consigny –are all strong if a bit interchangeable. The legendary Max Von Sydow steals his brief scenes as Bauby's homebound father. There is masterful work by Spielberg's longtime cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (his latest work is "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") seamlessly alternating between the reality and fantasy aspects of the narrative.

It is a remarkable film that on the surface, appears to focus on the traumatic effects of sensory deprivation, but evolves into a triumph of an eloquent soul yearning to share life's often harsh lessons with the world. Four bonus features are included in the 2008 DVD. The first is a standard, thirteen-minute making-of featurette, "Submerged: The Making of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" featuring the principal cast and crew as they share their thoughts on the production under Schnabel's direction. The second is the shorter "A Cinematic Vision", which describes what was done to convey Bauby's first-person point of view during the first part of the film. There is also a twenty-minute Charlie Rose interview with Schnabel from 2007, which turns out to be a lot more informative than the director's audio commentary on the film. Schnabel is disappointingly reticent with his observations, and it would have been good to have someone like Amalric or Harwood available to prompt greater insights. Regardless, it's a fine package for such an accomplished film. By the way, the diving bell of the title is refers to Bauby's horrendous physical limitations, and the butterfly represents his fertile imagination.
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Lived Up To The Hype
ccthemovieman-15 March 2010
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 truly special.

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.
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Like Watching Paint Dry
ulTRAX22 February 2009
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.
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my least favorite Schnabel film so far.
factcheck2215 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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"The Eye"
tintin-239 February 2008
Warning: 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 succession.

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.
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Polanski informs "Diving Bell"
samroome24 November 2007
Julian Schnabel's new film, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," appears to be channeling Roman Polanski. Check it out: the lead, Mathieu Amalric, resembles the young Polanski, and the lead's "wife" is played by Polanski's spouse, Emmanuelle Seigner. At least one scene (specifically, Jean-Do on the small square "dock" in the sea) reminded me of Polanski's first public short, "Two Men and a Wardrobe." And the memoir was adapted by Ron Harwood, who won an Oscar for his screenplay of Polanski's "The Pianist" (but the surreal thing about this is that Schnabel came on long after producer Kathleen Kennedy hired Harwood--it was Johnny Depp, whom she had first approached for the lead, who had expressed interested in the part and recommended Schnabel to her, per Kennedy at a screening and Q & A I attended November 10).

In any case, the film is audacious, grueling, and beautiful in both cinematic and painterly ways. And has a great soundtrack to boot, with songs by Tom Waits, Lou Reed, U2, and Joe Strummer.
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An excellent film, yet...
Redcitykev21 April 2008
Warning: 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.
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Amazing story of a tenacious human being: blinking back to happiness, against all odds
Ruby Liang (ruby_fff)26 March 2008
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 expectations.

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.
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A beautiful, unsentimental film (spoilers)
Ricky Roma16 March 2008
Warning: 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.
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