Julian Schnabel, well accepted as one of the important visual artists of our time, continues to impress with his small but elite group of films, proving that paintings and cinema are closely related as a means to reach the psyche. In 'Le Scaphandre et le papillon' ('The Diving Bell and the Butterfly') he has transformed the memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby (with the sensitive screen adaptation by Ronald Harwood) into an experience for the mind and the heart. It is an extraordinary blend of visual effects, poetry, exquisite acting, and the perseverance of the human mind to communicate with the world when all seeming variations of communication are stripped away.
Jean-Dominique (Jean-Do) Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) was the editor of the French magazine 'Elle', living with the beautiful Céline Desmoulins (Emmanuelle Seigner) and their three children, when during a ride with his son he has a massive stroke that leaves him completely paralyzed (the 'locked-in syndrome'). When he awakens from his coma he is able to hear and to see but he cannot speak or move, except for his eyes. From this point we, the audience, experience the world as through the eyes of Jean-Do, share his frustrations of being unable to speak, and in his ultimately having to communicate through the fine skills of his speech therapist Henriette Durand (Marie-Josée Croze) by blinking his eye once or twice for yes or no as each letter of the alphabet is spoken - an arduous task for both patient and visitor. He decides he wants to write his memoirs and Claude (Anne Consigny) is assigned to take his 'dictation'. The only faculties Jean-Do retains are his memory and his fantasies, and it is through the acting out of these that we discover the victim's private and secret life as well as his relationships to colleagues and lovers and family. He imagines the hospital where he is confined in the time of Nijinsky (Nicolas Le Riche) and Empress Eugénie (Emma de Caunes) and filters the realities of his life through the interactions with his comrades Laurent (Isaach De Bankolé) and others as well as vivid memories of his relationship with his father Papinou Bauby (Max von Sydow). With the patient assistance of the health providers, friends and family he is able to complete his memoir, the story of a man locked in a diving bell longing for the freedom of a butterfly, released form its cocoon. .
Getting used to the film technique Schnabel uses takes patience, but for those who are willing to accept the pace of the film, rich with fantasy and historical sequences, the impact is not only compelling but breathtaking. This telling of a true story is a fine work from all concerned and for this viewer it is one of the best films of recent years. Grady Harp, May 08
**** out of **** "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a beautiful film, and there is virtually no other way to describe it. Never has a modern biopic depicted such a potent mix of emotions, humor, and humanity. Julian Schnabel's film must be something truly special in order to do what it does so wonderfully. It is a film which I could recommend to just about anyone with their humanity in-tact. The genius of the film is that without reading the memoir of the … more
Life is filled with contingencies. We worry about them; they creep up on us; they challenge us and shape us. How people adapt to tragedy, however, can be a source of fascination and inspiration. One of the best things a film can do is to get us into others' shoes and show how their inner journey unfolds for them. Such is the case of `The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,' based on the autobiographical account of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Almaric), the editor for Frances' … more
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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The seemingly claustrophobic story of a man imprisoned in his paralyzed body becomes a dazzling and expansive movie about love, imagination, and the will to live. After a stroke, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric,Kings and Queen) can only move his left eye--and through that eye he learns to communicate, one letter at a time. With the help of his speech therapist (Marie-Josee Croze,Munich) and a stenographer (Anne Consigny,Anna M.), Bauby writes the stunning memoirThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly. But such a plot summary makes the movie sound like lofty, self-important medicine--far from it. Director Julian Schnabel (Basquiat,Before Night Falls), working from an elegant screenplay by Ronald Harwood (The Pianist) and with an oustanding cast (which also includesFrantic'sEmmanuelle Seigner as Bauby's neglected wife), has created a movie as engrossing and hypnotic as a thriller, a movie that wrestles with mortality yet has stubborn streaks of dark humor and eroticism, that portrays a man who overcomes unimaginable obstacles but refuses to paint him as a saint. Schnabel was once dismissed as a pompous and overblown painter, but he's crafted an intimate visual poem, a humble sonata about life at its most fragile.--Bret Fetzer